Gebo / Giba / Gyfu
Gebo is the rune of exchange and generosity; of gifts both given and received. Gebo represents the most important qualities in heathen ethics; balance, appreciation, and respect. Gebo, in this way, represents the sacrifice; a gift for a gift, a sacrifice for a sacrifice. This is a very foreign concept to the religions and institutions that have instilled in the modern man that he must only give, without expectation of reward or gift in return. This is the way to ensure defeat and destruction of ones limited energy, as it will be directed always towards “lesser” ends. In other words, generosity can be seen as a type of insurance, as usually, if one has been generous and finds themselves in need of assistance, they should have no issue acquiring it. Because they were generous in the past, they have fulfilled the appreciative and exchanging qualities that the Gebo rune requires in the present. This system enables the “wheel” to move onward in balance.
However, this does not mean the heathen society did not value charity, as this rune also represents the very concept of charity, as ones “gift” to society. We see this reflected in the Old Saxon/Faroese word geva which means “gift” and also “favor.” Throughout the Germanic linguistic timeline, it seems as though this concept, all the way down to its’ proto-Indo-European root gʰebʰ-, are consistent with the concept of giving, gifts, and goodwill. It is difficult to penetrate the Gebo runes deeper layers, but with these “outer” layers peeled away, we can begin to look a little closer at this rune and concept.
When looking for cognate words and connections with Gebo, I started to gain insight into the way in which the Germanic people (especially the Goths) viewed not only giving, but wealth and “richness” in general. In Gothic, we have the word gabigs meaning “rich, wealthy” which relates to the proto-Germanic word gabigaz which means “rich” but also “to give.” This implies the ancient Germanic person viewed “richness” in regard to how much one gives; further implicating a society based on mutual fulfillment of “favors” rather than purely financial movement. Although, monetary exchange would later replace much of this concept, as instead of doing “favors” for others to ensure you would receive favors in return (much like the Amish), people would now simply pay others to do things for them; the societies sense of appreciation, respect, and community suffer poorly because of this.
We see evidence for these theories in the “Old English Rune Poem” where it is said:
“Gift to men is adornment and approval,
A help and an honor, and for every exile,
Who lacks aught else, it is respect and sustenance.”
The poem alludes to many ways this rune can be applied. From the gift, to approval, to just the simple show of respect to others. Without a doubt, we can see this rune played a major role in how people interacted with each other. We perhaps find the best evidence for this theory in verses 40 and 41 of the “Hovamal”, where the High One says:
“40. None so free with gifts,
or food have I found,
That gladly he took not a gift,
Nor one who so widely,
Scattered his wealth,
That of recompense hatred he had.
41. Friends shall gladden each other,
With arms and garments,
As each for himself can see,
Are longest found,
If far their fates may be.”
Here we see this concept in concrete form, and straight from the “horse’s mouth.” We are told that gifts and generosity deter “recompense hatred,” meaning something like “the prize of hatred,” referring to what someone is rewarded or compensated. In short, one who “scatters” his wealth will “win” the opposite prize of hatred, meaning respect, love, and renown. Verse 41 alludes to long friendships being held intact by the giving of gifts.
There is the theory of “Odin’s 9 Runes” within the Elder Futhark. These runes are those of which remain the same whether upside down or right side up, generally conceding that there is no “reverse” or negative aspect of the rune. Gebo would be the first one we encounter in this system, symbolizing complete balance, unity, and exchange. In reference to Odin, this rune symbolizes his sacrifice on the tree, where he was given (X) the secret of the runes. This sacrifice (or gift) is the shedding of the lesser self in order to bring forward the higher Self, represented by Odin. Gebo is also reminiscent of the original gifts that Odin, Vili/Hoenir, and Ve/Lothur (arguably 3 forms of Odin), give to mankind. In “Voluspo” verses 17 and 18 it is said:
17. “Then from the throng, did three come forth,
From the home of the gods, the mighty and gracious;
Two without fate, on the land they found,
Ask (Ash) and Embla (Elm), empty of might.”
18. “Soul they had not, sense they had not,
Heat nor motion, nor goodly hue;
Soul gave Othin, sense gave Hoenir,
Heat gave Lothur, and goodly hue.”
Another esoteric journey through this rune leads us to a further connection with this type of “Odinic” system. The related Sanskrit word gábhasti reveals other avenues of interpretation, having an array of meanings such as “arm, hand, ray of light, sunbeam, the sun” and, “shining.” When I read this, I immediately pictured the “sun wheel” as symbolized by ⨁, which clearly resembles the X rune on its’ side, as the “spokes” of the wheel. With this avenue in focus, we can with full confidence attribute aspects of the sun with this rune, as the sun can be seen as the ultimate bestower of “gifts” upon man, which throughout the ages we have done our best, until recently, to show our respect, admiration, and appreciation to.
Another obscure connection can be seen in the Gothic word gibla, which means “pinnacle or apex of a building.” This word resembles the Gothic cognate of Gebo (giba) and alludes to this sun-like, or rather, “Odin” like apex; as the building could represent the human and Odin the apex of that expression. This could also be a reference to the part of the building that is closest to the sun. Strangely, we have another cognate word in the ancient Greek kephalḗ which means “the head, most important part, risking of one’s “head” (life).” This word is where we get our modern English cephalo, which in biological terms means “relating to the head or brain.” Yet another example of the strange journey language takes as it moves through different peoples and different times.
In conclusion, it is clear that when speaking about ancient Germanic Pagan ethics and morals, Gebo was the law. Gebo drives our interpersonal relationships, applying to both the physical and divine. All relationships revolve around a giving and receiving mechanism of some form, and this balance of nature was represented by the ancient Germans in the form of the equal armed, crossing X. Always the same, always in balance, and ever present… no pun intended.