I’m Bringing Gebo Back

This is part of a post from The Bad Witch Files. I’ve been writing about Gebo this week, so thought I’d revisit it here. You can also see “12 Footnotes” and “Another Q&A.”


To a Heathen – really, any good-souled Pagan of any tradition – the law of Gebo is a respectable one – an accepted one. You give what you get: like-for-like: what goes around comes around: you reap what you sow: the threefold rule of return. Self-deprecation and martyrdom are not really a part of our belief system. Taking something without giving back? Well, that’s jus’stealing, ain’t it? We sacrifice, sure – but we sacrifice to deity, we don’t make sacrifices to human mortals. And, goshdarnit, don’t we adhere to the idea that “to lead is to serve”? In Paganism, honor is obtained and maintained through a system of checks-and-balances. There should be no one person in a group who does all the giving and no one other who does all the taking. Like Æsop’s ant and grasshopper.

I was thinking about that fable – I was actually going to focus my post on “Grasshoppers,” but then I was (pardon the pun) bugged by something. The way I had always heard the story was that the grasshopper got to have all of the fun in the sun and watch the ant work and laugh and play banjo all summer and then when the cold came around, the ant let the grasshopper seek shelter and partake of colony feasting. I was always miffed at Æsop for being so naïve. Even as I kid I knew that there’s no way on this green earth that the grasshopper learned anything aside from a lesson that goes: “Shoot yea, I can have a party-life and when the cold comes ‘round, I’ll just present myself as a victim of climate change. Some hard-working and compassionate killjoy will save my metathorax so I can live to party another summer.” Then I looked up the fable. The real one.

Holy hell. I had learned the story from a bunch of self-deprecating martyrs, hadn’t I. In the original, the ant leaves the grasshopper’s metathorax out in the cold to become oriel food. Now, I don’t advocate leaving any creature out in the elements; I think that’s downright despicable. However, it’s a fable. A metaphor. But given the warnings the ant gave the grasshopper, given the opportunities the grasshopper had to change his mind, I think the ant did what the ant had to do. After all, the ant had a colony to protect and feed – and have you ever seen a grasshopper eat? Those suckers consume everything in their path and look around for “What’s next?”

It brought my mind to thinking about those we sometimes disparagingly call “Party Pagans” and “Playgans.” I know you know who I mean. Those who love festivals but put very little toward study, ritual, and meditation. Those who avoid introspection like they would a plague (of locusts?). Those who feed their pride but not their character – nor the souls of those with whom they interact. Those who concoct and improvise rather than employing tried-n-true discipline. While I love a good party as well as the next Heathen, and while I see the absolute value in true ritualistic revelry, and at the risk of sounding moralizing and judgmental, I feel like a shindig should be saved for desert. Consuming “festival” as the whole meal can make you end up looking a lot like an insatiable grasshopper.

Enough preaching, where was I?

Gift for a gift – Gebo. Right.

To the ancients, a gift always called for another in return. Accepting a gift places us under obligation to the giver – be that the gods or another person. But – remember – we don’t have to be *forced* into obligation. Being given a gift presents us with the choice of acceptance or rejection. If you accept you must be prepared to give in return. If you don’t want to give back – don’t accept the gift or return the gift (pristine).[1] This is not returning a gift in the derogatory ”Indian Giving” we often hear about. It’s responsible action.

We must find the balance between giving and receiving and learn to give and take conscientiously. As part of the universal idea of balance.[2]

See you next week.
Til then, Waes Hael!


[1] Gebo can also mean a partnership or union; gebo is commonly used as the sign of a kiss (the symbol of affection, gebo can be said to be the X in XOXO). It can also mean forgiveness – one of the noblest gifts of all – to give or to receive. When gebo shows up in a rune reading, we tend to interpret it as: “Ask forgiveness and it will be given; likewise, show compassion.” Gebo itself is nonreversible, BTW; but the converse (sideways) reading indicates an relationship imbalance.

[2] Gebo itself is nonreversible in a runic reading, BTW; but the converse (sideways) reading indicates an relationship imbalance.


3 thoughts on “I’m Bringing Gebo Back

  1. I love gifting. Since i am ill of late i have been giving away ALOT of stuff, like 90% of my library of 300 books, which used to be about 1500 books. I cannot read them anymore, but am keeping some treasured reference books. And nowadays I can download and read them better with larger fonts on the internet, I would rather they go to people who Can read and enjoy them. When i gift i expect the person to either say “no thanks not my thing” or to take it, and then it is theirs to keep, sell, or give away to whomever they wish. Gifting must have a clean karmic slate, like not going to their house later and saying “hey where is your gift”. It has to be just giving and no feeling of patting oneself on the back. I tend to call my ocd energies of ridding the house of things i do not need or use as potlatching like nw AmerIndians do.

    • And that’s a great point. (It’s in my original “12 Footnotes” post.) We don’t expect to get recompense from humans. More often then not, our return is intangible. Like when we leave a sacrifice or offering, we don’t expect to get bread or mead in return. We expect intangible “blessings.” In your case, getting rid of negative energy is your return. I’m sure you are granted plenty of divine “blessings” for all that gifting!

      • Well getting rid of stuff that one does not use is more getting rid of stagnant rather than negative energies, though they are negative is a passive rather than active way. Just the word “thanks” is good enough for me. I never really think about good karma coming, just assume that good given out will open the path for good coming in.

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