The inner yard

Many modern societies, especially those in the West, place an emphasis on individualism. However, ancient Germanic society placed a stronger focus on group identity. Specifically, their culture taught that an individual should always act with the best interests of the group in mind, and that the group is what informs the identity of the individual. This group is called the inner yard (ON innangarðr, OE innangeard) and lives “within the enclosure” — a reference to the physical fence that surrounded ancient Germanic villages.

Historically, a person’s inner yard was made up of the 2-4 homesteads (on average) in a farming community. These villages were separated from the wilderness with some kind of fencing, which represented the boundary between civilization and nature. To the ancient Germanics, civilization represented mankind, law, order, justice, goodness, and frith; nature represented chaos, danger, death, lawlessness, villainy, and frithlessness. Only the parts of the natural world that existed within the boundaries of civilization were considered humanity’s allies. Everything else was its enemy. Therefore, the inner yard of the ancient Germanics consisted of families that helped each other survive on a day-to-day basis. These were the people with whom they held frith, the most important aspect of the inner yard, the glue which holds it together.

In modern times, the inner yard can be called many things: kindred, clan, tribe. Multiple hearths can make up an inner yard, and inner yards can expand and shrink over time. But again, without a frith-bond, two people are not considered part of the same inner yard. This requirement means that most Heathens consider their blood relatives and close friends to be part of their inner yard, even if they do not all live in the same local area. Some Heathens also have frith-breakers as blood relatives, so their inner yards may not contain those family members. This parallels the frith-breaking in ancient times, which resulted in those perpetrators being exiled from society as niðings.

Even though most modern Heathens don’t have to worry about daily survival in the same sense the ancient Germanics did, the inner yard is still critical to a person’s survival today. Humans are social animals and do not thrive in isolation, no matter how much we think we can. Humans are also group-minded, naturally preferring the company of people like them over the company of people less like them. A modern Heathen can benefit from using the model of the inner yard vs. the outer yard as a guideline for navigating interpersonal relationships, even though the contexts of those relationships have changed with the times.

The outer yard

If the inner yard exists “within the enclosure,” then the outer yard (ON útangarðr, OE ūtangeard) exists “beyond the enclosure.” For the ancient Germanic peoples, the outer yard was the realm of monsters. Giants, trolls, wolves, dragons, and other dangerous creatures dwelled in the outer yard. They were not necessarily evil, but they represented the harsh, natural landscape where the ancient Germanics lived — a world of struggle that threatened the existence of civilization every day.

In our modern day, we are more knowledgeable of what exists in the world beyond civilization’s borders thanks to science, but that does not mean those chaotic forces of nature do not still exist. Natural disasters, droughts, the temperamental ocean, dangerous wild animals, and other forces still can and do cause damage to humanity. Just like the ancient Germanics, the modern Heathen should exercise caution when dealing with the natural forces of the outer yard.

In a similar vein, a person should exercise caution when dealing with other humans in the outer yard. After all, even though humanity exists as civilization, people can also bring pain and chaos into each other’s lives. A stranger might be a new friend or a new enemy. The likelihood that a new acquaintance might try to harm you is low, but the chance exists, and Heathenry teaches us to always be conscious of that chance. Only after frith has been established between two people through the gifting cycle can they approach the idea of adding each other to their respective inner yards.

In the modern era, we lack the ease of a physical barrier to denote who is in our inner yards and who is in our outer yards, so we must decide based on many more factors than the ancient Germanic tribes did. Not everyone outside of one’s inner yard is a danger, and a modern Heathen may have friends and even family in their outer yard if there are no frith-bonds between them. Regardless of what has changed over the centuries, the following remains the same: a person cannot be in someone’s inner yard and outer yard simultaneously. They must be in one or the other.