What today stands for work, namely, wage labor, was a badge of misery all through the Middle Ages. It stood in clear opposition to at least three other types of toil: the activities of the household by which most people subsisted, quite marginal to any money economy; the trades of people who made shoes, barbered or cut stones; the various forms of beggary by which people lived on what others shared with them. In principle, medieval society provided a berth for everyone whom it recognized as a member – its structural design excluded unemployment and destitution. When one engaged in wage labor, not occasionally as the member of a household but as a regular means of total support, he clearly signaled to the community that he, like a widow or an orphan, had no berth, no household, and so stood in need of public assistance.

shadow-workch. 5

(emphasis added)

Illustrated by the story Martín Prechtel tells of arriving in the Mayan village where he lived and trained in Guatemala, wanting to rent a house and being met with incomprehension. ‘So you want to pay someone money to live on your own in their house, but where will they live?’ ‘Why would you want to live on your own, with no children or elders or women?’ ‘Why don’t you build a house, then?’ He says that he doesn’t know how. ‘Well, ask your father and your mother and your uncles to help you!’ When he explains that he has no family around who can help, they say, ‘Oh, you are an orphan!’ Finally, the villagers have found a category into which to fit this strangely helpless man. (This story is told in Secrets of the Talking Jaguar (1998).)

homeward-boundwk. 2

see also: Stephen Jenkinson / Orphan Wisdom


homeward-bound Björkman, Anna, and Dougald Hine. 2021. ↩︎ 1

shadow-work Illich, Ivan. 2011. Shadow Work. Marion Boyars. ↩︎ 1