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Huginn’s Heathen Hof

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How is Raising a Barn Like Helping Your Friends Move?


Stop me if you’ve heard this one. Someone needs to move house. They call up dozens of their closest friends, family members, coworkers, far-flung acquaintances, pedestrians passing by, and innocent bystanders on social media begging for help with the monstrous process of packing and transporting a lifetime’s possessions. Somewhere in the midst of the panic, a few friends drop by with cardboard boxes or newspapers. On moving day itself, only a few brave souls show up, enticed by promises of pizza or beer, only to discover a half-packed house, a moving truck that’s at least two sizes too small, and a panicked would-be mover running around like…well, most of us have never actually seen a chicken with its head cut off, but that’s probably what it would look like if it happened, right?

In other words, a bloody mess.

Is it any wonder, then, that so few friends turn up to help people move in the first place? I’ve been on both ends of this scenario. In general, I make it my policy to help any friend who is moving if I can possibly manage it because I know just how unlikely it is that anyone else will actually be there. I also do it because I’m hopeful that one day, it will pay off in terms of someone actually being there for me when I move. I’ll let you know if that ever actually works out for me.

Looking at this situation with an Urglaawe hat on, I can see what the foundation of this problem is: a lack of community. In the Heathen world, we tend to think of community building as growing our various kindreds and organizations. That’s important work, but it’s not all of it. A community is literally the people who live around you, or at least close enough to come by for dinner, game night, or, yes, to help out when life’s hassles are a bit too much to handle solo. In our profoundly isolated modern society, how many people have those kinds of connections? More people live alone now than at any time in human history. Many of us cannot name our neighbors, and sometimes we don’t even feel safe where we live. Plus Heathenry itself is struggling both to establish itself as a faith and differentiate our practices from those who would twist our sacred practices to racist and bigoted ends. If we want our religion to grow and thrive, if we want to have friends and neighbors we can trust in and rely on, who can trust in and rely on us in turn, we have to start building community beyond the walls of our kindreds.

So…how do we do that?

Urglaawe is a faith inspired by the Deitsch (Pennsylvania Dutch) culture. When we say inspired by, we mean we look to them for our example and build from there. Now, it’s true, 18th-century farmers didn’t do a lot of moving from apartment to apartment or house to house. But they did come together for a lot of shared labor that benefitted everyone in the community. One really prominent example of this is barn raising, a phenomenon by which an entire village would raise a barn with no modern machinery in just a day or two. Everyone was involved, whether through creating the plans, directing the building, performing various portions of the physical labor, providing food and water for the laborers, carrying supplies, and, for the youngest children, the task of watching and learning to be of help in the future. In modern times, this tradition is rarer–there’s less need for barns–but it still continues, especially in the Plain (Amish, Mennonite) communities.

Other examples of shared labor in Deitsch communities include corn husking, making preserves, and quilting bees. These were often turned into occasions for celebration and building friendships as well as accomplishing important work together.

You may think that such examples are outdated and not applicable in our modern world. But there are actually a lot of useful lessons we can find here, even if we’re not building barns and making our own apple butter. (Although if you haven’t had homemade apple butter, you really ought to try it!)

Many Hands Make Light Work: Why is moving house so awful? Because so few people show up to help! In Deitsch barn raisings, participation is non-negotiable: everyone always helps, and everyone always receives help. You never have to worry about putting your barn up yourself, but you always know that you will be called upon in turn any time one of your neighbors needs to build one. With everyone taking part, the labor of any one individual is greatly reduced, and the amount of time the task takes overall is much shorter.

Hospitality: You may be used to hospitality being applied to dinners, parties, game night, and other fun events, not work. But there’s actually a role for host and guest to play when the work exchange of a barn raising–or a house move–is taking place too. The hosts are those receiving the assistance. Their responsibilities might include things like planning the move, making a workable schedule and sticking to it, hiring any outside special assistance or equipment needed, providing food and drink, remaining calm and kind with the people who are helping and delegating duties in a reasonable way. The responsibilities of the guests, or those lending their assistance, might include things like contributing supplies (boxes, newspapers, tape, etc), providing expertise, making clear what they are and are not able to help with, showing up on time, recruiting extra friends to assist, and so on. As mentioned above, exercising reciprocity–the expectation that anyone who is called on for help has the unquestioned right to call on all the others in turn–is absolutely crucial to this hospitality.

Learn from Your Elders: Have you ever noticed how many people seem to have no idea what they’re doing when they try to move? Countless people make the mistakes of filling large boxes with very heavy or breakable objects, not getting enough boxes, underestimating the truck size, having no idea what order to pack things in, and more. But imagine if, as the Deitsch grew up from childhood watching their communities raise barns, you had been watching friends and neighbors move since childhood while the adults carefully coordinated everything. Moving would be old hat to you, and you’d be able to plan and direct your own successful packing, transfer, and unpacking. You’d know what needed to be done and when so that you could delegate tasks effectively. You’d know what you could handle yourself and what you’d need help with. You’d probably have a pretty good idea of how many boxes to get, or what size of truck to rent. And if there were any of these steps that you were personally unfamiliar with, you’d have a whole bunch of people who had been moving homes all their lives around for you to ask.

Work With the Wheel: Everything in Urglaawe takes place seasonally. We set our goals by the turning of the year, and work with the forces of the universal cycles, not against them. But when’s the last time you attended a well-planned move? Many moves are slapdash affairs, which means that people aren’t available to help, trucks are all rented out that weekend, movers are impossible to hire, and so on. Now, sometimes emergencies arise, and a sudden move can’t be helped. But if most of the time, people were planning ahead for their moves, so that the weather was agreeable and the resources were available, then those few times that there were sudden emergencies, the community wouldn’t be too tapped out to help.

Everyone Plays a Role: There are many roles to play in a move, just as there are in a barn raising, and even as they are in life, in the broader sense. There’s cleaning, organizing, packing, lifting, loading, driving, providing food and water and sanity breaks for the other workers, unpacking, putting away, and more. The more people there are, the more of these roles can be covered, and the more each person helping can give their best contributions.  

In Urglaawe, we take our cues from the Deitsch, but bring them forward in a modern context. In this way, we improve ourselves, our lives, our communities, and our relationships with the Gods, Ancestors, and Spirits. While there’s no 18th century Deitsch handbook for moving house, nor for many of the other modern challenges we face, looking to these traditions can be profoundly helpful. I believe that this is the spirit of Urglaawe. So, now that you have this example: what are other modern challenges you can face like an Urglaawer?

If you’re interested in Urglaawe, I encourage you to check out the Urglaawe resources page. You might also like to stop by the Urglaawe Facebook group to say hello!

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