Living Honorably

Although folks speak often of honor in modern Heathenry it is something that is Viking_arm_ring_gotland_2_largeill defined. Many problems arise because folks have different concepts of honor, or different interpretations. These can often come into conflict quite easily when ideas on honor differ. For example two thoughts on honor that often come into conflict are the idea one should stand by their word no matter what versus one should admit when one is wrong and apologize. The two ideas cannot always work together, and when one person has one idea, and one has the other, a conflict erupts with each thinking the other has no honor. The problem is there have been many different codes of honor in the time since ancient Heathenry. There was the ancient Heathen code of honor, this was followed by the code of chivalry of the Middle Ages, then there were the Victorian codes of honor, and all the ones in between as one transitioned to the other. And none of them can easily be applied to modern society. And yet Heathens try to adapt portions of each to their personal ideas on honor. Some Heathens have looked to ancient ideas on honor, but those are not easily adapted to modern Heathenry.

We cannot, in my opinion look to the Lore for an idea of honor. Much can be taken from it, but one must realize theirs was a different society, one in which different rules applied. It was a very martial society. Combat was a way of resolving conflicts. Many of the options they had for restoring honor are no longer available to us. Indeed, much of what the ancient Heathens held to be a part of honor do not apply unless one has served in the military. That is not to say as modern Heathens we cannot have some concept of honor. It is to say that it must be different. It is likely to be closer to what the common man amongst the ancient Heathens thought of as honor than the great warriors of the warbands did. Many members of a warband were often single men, in service of their lord, with no home other than their lord’s hall to call their own. This is in contrast to the farmer, who owned his own farm, and had a family to look out for. A single warrior could afford to throw his life away over a petty insult. The farmer on the other hand had to worry about the loss to his wife and kids would create were he killed.

If one reads Njal’s Saga, one can see a period when ideas on honor were transitioning even amongst those counted as warriors. Many in the saga seek to settle disputes through combat, but Njal always tries to get folks to settle peacefully, even if it means going to Thing. When killings happen Njal is quick to pay wergild or advise others that wergild be paid. At one point in the saga there is a feud between Njal and his close friend Gunnar. The two never come to blows. They simply meet, pay the wergild for whatever killings their family members had done, and go on. Their aim was to maintain the peace, and not go to full blood feud. When Gunnar is drawn into a conflict with Gizur, again despite killings a feud was ended through the paying of wergild even though an offer had been made to fight the holmgang. Every time a conflict seems like it is about to breakout steps are taken to avoid more killings. Even before killings take place steps are taken to try to prevent the slayings. Feuds and fights do break out in the saga, but not without an attempt to avoid them. One thing made clear in one of Njal’s visits to Thing is that it was in the best interest of the community to avoid bloodshed. These men were farmers as well as warriors and could not afford the loss of life duels and feuds would inflict. Perhaps it had always been that way in Germanic culture and the code of honor of the common man that allowed for peaceful resolution was not handed down. Even at that time people had many things to take into consideration such as what happens to the family if the provider is killed in a duel? I rather suspect they found more honor in looking after one’s family, keeping one’s word, being honest and truthful, at least amongst the common folk. It seems rather silly then when young Heathens today challenge each other to combat. It is clear from Njal’s Saga peaceful resolutions were sought, and besides ancient duels were to the death, not the first blow or whatever nonsense.

anglosaxon_maximsI think therefore an honorable man or woman in modern times takes care of his or her own. They do not take offense unless one of his or her folk is harmed in some way. The honorable man or woman is above allowing mere words to hurt him or her. I know this flies in the face of much of the Lore, but in ancient times Heathens could duel to the death to maintain their honor. Today, we do not have that option unless one wants to serve a life sentence in prison. This is why one should never hear in Heathenry anything close to, “You have offended my honor.” That is not to say one should let all insults slide, but there were other ways of handling insults to one’s honor in ancient times that we can use, instead of combat. The obvious one is through use of Thing, but a quicker way to resolve insults to one’s honor is seen in Beowulf. Beowulf is a perfect example of how an ancient Heathen handled taunts and insults in some situations. When his honor is questioned in symbel Beowulf did not take offense, and say “That offended me,” and ask Unferth to step outside. Instead he pointed out Unferth’s shortcomings, and then proceeded to boast of his own accomplishments.

The proper response to an insult in modern times should be to answer it with evidence to the contrary, not to try to settle it with combat. In some cases the best thing to do is to ignore it altogether if it is a petty insult. This is quite simply because words cannot hurt us. And if we offer evidence to the contrary of the insult, we have already successfully defended our name. The folk are allowed to hear both sides, and decide whose honor is intact. Only bullies that cannot defend their names with words resort to the threat of physical violence in my opinion in this day and age. After all they know no one can challenge them to place their life on their words without punishment by the government. They know that they can fall back on the idea that should someone take them up on their challenge, that that person will be convicted of a crime should they be killed. Most all are not willing to go to prison just to prove a point so the bullies are rather safe in not having to face someone in real combat to the death. They may feel differently in a word duel where evidence that the insult is true or not true is provided.

Because we cannot resort to trial by combat these days, I think today a willingness to admit when one is wrong, and one’s opponent is right plays a part in honor. This may mean acknowledging one’s own short comings. For example, someone might say, “Swain Wodening is an arrogant ass.” My only response would be to admit that yes, I once was, but I have since changed. Part of being honorable is in being able to see one’s faults and seeking to correct them, and admit them when they are pointed out. Admitting one’s faults is not a sign of weakness. It takes more bravery to admit one is wrong, and accept the consequences than to steadfastly maintain oneself is right in the light of great evidence to the contrary. It is a part of being honest. And a great, great part of being honorable is about being honest.

After all, pride is a great thing, and it is counted as a virtue amongst Heathens, but pride based on lies is nothing at all. Pride is tied to renown. If one’s accomplishments are enough that others sing praises of his or her deeds, then pride should be the result. By steadfastly maintaining things that are not true just to save face is not saving face at all. Sometimes, a temporary bout of humiliation is not as bad as a life of shame when others uncover the truth. One should always admit one’s faults, one’s flaws, and strive to overcome them. Part of being honorable is trying to overcome one’s shortcomings. The result of pride is self-confidence. An honorable man or woman will be self-confident in his or her abilities. They will have high self-esteem and not demean themselves. Self-confidence is something that must be maintained, and it should not be confused with arrogance. Being self-confident means being confident in one’s own ability, while arrogance is an overblown opinion of oneself completely out of touch with reality. Part of building self-confidence means having a sense of dignity.

Dignity plays a role in self-esteem and therefore dignity plays a role in honor. Dignity means behaving in a way as to be worthy of honor. It means not stooping to things that are not honorable such as taking unfair advantage of people or being petty. A man or woman with dignity behaves in such a way as to show they have worth. They do not seek to harm the community in any way. They are courteous, do not stoop to vulgar insults, are genteel in their language and manners. They conduct themselves in a way that society deems respectable. They are careful not to give offense. To say something is “beneath one’s dignity” is to say one would not do something because it might do harm. To have dignity demands a bit of self-control. One cannot afford to allow one’s emotions to control them. In doing so one might say things he or she later regrets. To have dignity means to have control of oneself, to never allow oneself to lose control of their senses. One might call this discipline. In a way dignity is about having taught oneself to be in control at all times.

If one has honor and dignity all they must do is strive to make his or her name known and he or she will be renowned. Renown has already been mentioned, but I will touch on it in more depth here. Renown can be said to mean, “fame” or “glory.” Theodsmen refer to renown as having a good gefrain. Many think of it as having a good name. Most are familiar with the verse from the Havamal:

Cattle die and kinsmen die,
thyself too soon must die,
but one thing never, I ween, will die, —
fair fame of one who has earned.
(Havamal 75)

If one is honorable and has dignity, and done things to make a name for his or herself he or she never has to worry about renown. Renown is at its core what people think of you. If our deeds have been honorable, and we have lived with dignity and we have done things to make a name for ourselves we never have to worry about being renowned. People will already sing our praises, speak well of us when they hear our names, and thus our fame will spread, and our name be remembered. And if we are accused of having done something we did not do, people will not believe it as it is not in our character to do such. A good name often means being above reproach. Renown carries with it benefits. I feel everyone should strive to be renowned. They should make their name known at least in their local community. But this should not be a case of vainglory. One should attempt to gain renown not by making a name for his or herself, but by serving the community, being kind to others, helping others, keeping one’s word, being an honest man or woman. This is what being honorable, having dignity, and earning renown is all about. If one has a good gefrain or reputation, is known for being kind, generous, hospitable, then that is honor.’ It does not take a lot of work to maintain one’s honor, dignity, and renown. All one really needs to do is be gracious, kind, courteous, and helpful to their fellow Heathens. One should ever strive to be the best person he or she can be. If one can do these things they will have honor, dignity, and renown. There is nothing special one has to do other than keep his or her actions worthy of the gods.

Community Above All Else

Modern Heathenry came into being with a sense of rugged individualism. Self-reliance perhaps was seen as the highest virtue. People were expected to stand on their own two feet without the aid of anyone else. Everyone had to do their fair share. Heathens did not even kneel before the gods, as, well, a Heathen knelt before no one. This ideology did not last long, but it lasted long enough to leave its imprint on modern Heathenry as a whole.

To this day the rugged individual is admired. And really there is nothing wrong with this, except that some folks are so busy being individuals that they really have no concern with the community. They place their own self-preservation above that of the community’s. Others are not so concerned with individualism, but have set out to make a name for themselves. I fell into that category. They seek to be well known in Heathenry, admired by many. They seek to have a name of renown. There is nothing wrong with trying to have great renown. Indeed, it is counted as something important in ancient Heathenry. Many passages in the Lore encourage people to make a name for themselves, for their name to be remembered after they die. The problem is that many, (me included years ago) go about it the wrong way. Instead of earning a name through service to the community, though being kind and helping others, they attempt to do so by using the community. That is they take advantage of the community to further their own desires and wants. Instead of doing what is good for the community, they insist on doing what is best for them. Still others are full blown narcissists thinking only of themselves, seeing themselves as so self-important as to be above the community, better than the average Heathen.

These and other such individuals hurt the community. Anytime folks place themselves above the community, even the greater Heathen community, especially if they are a leader, the community suffers. The sad truth is, as much as the Lore speaks of people making a name for themselves, of gaining renown, the ancient Heathens were very community minded. This is why you see the verses on generosity and hospitality. Ancient Heathens saw themselves as part of something bigger as something beyond themselves. They worked together, they fought together, they partied together. Folks gathered together often. Decisions were made as a village or tribe. The ideal of the strong, rugged individual who acts without the need of help is largely a modern one. Even the great heroes of the Lore such as Sigurd while they did many things on their own worked towards the good of the community; for the benefit of it. Similarly, while there are many examples in the Lore of folks seeking to make a name for themselves they nearly always did so in service to something greater. The idea was what is good for the community is what is good for the individual. One does not seek to harm the community as ultimately that will harm oneself. We should be no different.  The community should come before all else.

In all we do we should put the community first. We should think on how our actions impact others. We should question ourselves, am I doing this for the community, or am I doing it for myself, or is it a little of both? If the answer is we are doing it for ourselves without regard to the community then there may be a problem. When one seeks only to further oneself without giving thought to how it may impact the greater community, he or she risks hurting the community. The first question one should always ask is how will this impact the community? If there is potential for a negative impact, one has to ask, is this truly worth hurting the community over? For Heathenry to survive we must look out for the survival of our communities and the greater Heathen community. If we are just a bunch of individuals looking out for our own interests Heathen society will quickly decline into petty squabbles as each tries to grab a bigger part of the pie for his or herself.

Therefore, one should always seek to serve the community. This is especially true of Heathen leaders. We should be willing to make sacrifices to the community of our time and our possessions. In the Ealdriht we called this service leadership. The idea was that the community is not there to serve leaders; the leaders are there to serve the community. When one took on a leadership role they essentially became a slave of the community doing as the community dictated. Part of the problem in modern Heathenry today is many have this backward. They think as leaders the community is there to serve them, that the community is there to meet their needs. This is the opposite of what it should be. Leaders are there to meet the needs of the community. Someone needs a way to get to a gathering? It is the community leader’s duty to see that person gets to the gathering. Food needs to be purchased for the feast, and the community as a whole cannot provide it? It is up to the community leader to find a way for there to be food for the feast. Does the floor at a gathering need to be swept? It should be the community leader that grabs a broom first. Community leaders are there to provide for the community be it in the way of service or financial support of some kind. While many do not have the means to support a community financially, nearly all of us have the means to serve the community.

Serving the community is not just for leaders though, it also goes for members of the community. I feel it is the duty of every Heathen to serve their community in some way. In ancient times, everyone helped in the harvest that was physically able to. There were no exceptions. Wulfgar did not try to get out of reaping the wheat because he wanted to go fishing. No, he grabbed a scythe and went to the fields. Ancient Heathens did not have the benefit of machines; everyone had to work towards ensuring the needs of the greater community were met. For us this means making the community a priority. It means going to a kindred gathering, joining in helping cook feast, or haul firewood for the bonfire instead of going shopping. It means making time for the community; making oneself available to the community. It means helping others within the community. Those that are members of a community are as a whole healthier and happier than those that are not. So serving the community is a way of helping oneself.

Ancient Heathenry was in and of itself a communal religion. Yes, many performed rites alone, but for the most part rites were done as a family or as a village. Having been Theodish it is my view that the gods do not pay attention to individuals, that is what the ancestors are there for. Instead the gods focus on communities. When they do do for individuals it is generally in giving individuals a way to serve the community. For example, I was given the ability to write. Yes, that serves me, but it also serves the community by helping spread knowledge. Someone may have been given the gift of being a great cook, and yes, that will serve his or herself, but it can also help the community by enabling that person to prepare feasts. I think it very rare the gods give gifts to someone that are not given with the idea such gifts will be shared in some way.

Too, as a community things can be accomplished that otherwise may go undone. Going back to Hurricane Katrina, it took the work of many individuals working as a community to give aid to those in trouble. If it had been only one or two individuals doing it on their own little may have been accomplished. Few of us have the means, energy, or time to pull off large scale gatherings or other projects on our own. By banding together we can accomplish great things. Every one of us has a way to help the community. Even the disabled can be there for company and moral support. Many hands make for light work and by many individuals putting the community first the work becomes very light. By spreading the work out amongst many individuals no one is overburdened. Together a community has more resources to accomplish something than any single individual does. And each individual benefits of this. It is easy to say that we do not need a community. That we do not need fellowship, but humans are social animals. It is in our nature to live as families, as villages, as tribes. Humans require the love of their fellow man to be healthy and happy. We can get that as a community.

I think many problems can be avoided if one puts the community first. If one places maintaining the frith of his or her community above all else things are better for everyone. I currently know of a situation of a squabble between two leaders of a community. At first glance the issue at hand may seem important. It is a question of fealty, of keeping one’s oath to the community. The problem is that in trying to seek recompense for the broken oath, or in trying to deny recompense is needed by claiming the oath was not broken, more damage is being done to that community than if things were simply allowed to slide.

Sometimes, it is best to simply let things go in the best interest of the community. Is it really worth destroying the frith of the community in order to punish an individual for some perceived transgression? In some cases the transgression may have done less damage to the community than attempts to make the person pay recompense for the transgression. I know in my own life I have had to let things go so as not to destroy the frith of the community. I have had wrongs done me that I could have pursued, but in the greater scheme of things, my getting recompense for those wrongs done me was not as important as keeping the community together. And if you are the wrong doer, it does not pay to insist one is right, and drag out a situation longer than it should be. Sometimes, it is best just to admit one is wrong, make recompense, and move on.

Part of making sure the grith and frith of a community is maintained is making sure conflicts are resolved swiftly and peacefully. Tense situations that are allowed to drag on and on damage the community. This was even the line of thought in ancient Heathenry. One only need to read Njal’s Saga and see how Njal works hard to resolve conflicts so as to minimize damage. Now, I am not talking about letting serious transgressions like assault, theft, child molestation, and murders go. But those are best handled by the legal system. And generally when that is the situation the community is in agreement. But for the most part, for things like broken oaths it is best to deal with it, have done with it, and move on. Sometimes we have to look out for the interest of the community and not that of ourselves. I am not saying we should not try to hold people to their word, nor am I saying we should not punish wrong doers. But we do have to ask, did the wrong done do more damage to the community than seeking some sort of resolution would?

In the case of broken oaths for example, is it not enough to say that the person that broke the oath is no longer a part of the community? Is it really worth trying to seek more from the person that broke the oath? Even as important as oaths are to Theodsmen when I broke my oath to Garman Lord in the 90s I was simply outlawed, and that was the end of it. No more was said or done. By doing so the community was maintained, and not torn apart by needless strife. Sometimes, the best course of action is to do something about the situation, and then let it go. I have seen conflicts that have dragged on for years, and ultimately destroyed communities simply because someone could not let something go. It is best sometimes just to walk away, or allow others to walk away.

The reason is that the frith of the community is more important than anything. Nothing else in my opinion is as far as a community is concerned is as important. Maintaining frith means making sure a community is peaceful and prosperous. Needless strife breaks the peace, and can interfere with the prosperity of a community. We have all seen what warfare does to a nation. What were prosperous nations in my own lifetime have been so torn apart by civil war, once beautiful cities have been destroyed. The greater Heathen community is no different. We can seek to build it up, to maintain the frith, to maintain grith between groups, or we can seek to ruin it with needless fighting or bickering.

Communities benefit individuals by providing us with fellowship. They give us like minded individuals to gather with, talk to, and learn from. The benefits of a community should be obvious. If we were to operate simply as individuals Heathenry may well no longer exist today. Many new religions have come and gone because they could not organize a community of some sort. Heathenry will only continue to grow if we can organize into communities. And these communities can only continue to exist if we see to it that within them frith is maintained. The days of seeing Heathenry as a religion of rugged individualism have passed. It has long since been replace by seeing Heathenry as a communal religion. It is unlikely the idea of individualism will ever return, and in my opinion if it were to it would spell he doom of Heathenry. It is in our best interest to try to build healthy, growing communities. And we can only do so by putting the frith of those communities above all else.

Heathens Be Nice!

Illustration by Jesseca Trainham for Robin Artisson's upcoming Havamal translation.
Illustration by Jesseca Trainham for Robin Artisson’s upcoming Havamal translation.

It seems odd to have to tell folks to be nice. I mean it is something we learn in preschool. Do not be mean to people, do not call them names, and do not try to hurt their feelings. It is among the first things we learn. We learn it right up there with not taking things that do not belong to us, washing our hands, not running in halls, and sharing. Sometime during the course of childhood folks forget this. Some even become mean-spirited and self-centered. Yet for a society to know grith and frith this has to be the most important rule, be nice. Grith, simply put is the peace agreed upon between groups, while frith is peace within a tribe or group. In modern Heathenry it should be assumed that grith exists between all groups and individuals unless there is reason otherwise. Frith should always exist within a group. Neither can exist without people being nice to each other. What is being nice? It means being careful not to harm others physically, emotionally, or spiritually. While it is never stated as such in the Lore this can be read into many passages in the Havamal, the Anglo-Saxon Maxims, and maxims in the sagas. Maxims about generosity and hospitality are all about being nice to others. Being nice means being a lot of things. It means being generous. It means being hospitable. It means being willing to compromise. It means having common courtesy. It means being compassionate.

Generosity and Hospitality

Being generous and hospitable are often touted in the Lore, and were probably at the core of what the ancient Heathens thought of being nice.

The generous and bold have the best lives,
Are seldom beset by cares,
But the base man sees bogies everywhere
And the miser pines for presents.
(Havamal 48)

It is clear from many passages in the Lore that Heathens are meant to be a giving people. We are not meant to be hoarders of wealth. Physical wealth is not the only thing we can share. There is also the gift of knowledge. There is the gift of fellowship. There is the gift of wisdom. There is the gift of understanding. All too often we want to be miserly with these things. We do not share knowledge as folks should be able to go out and look it up on their own. We do not share fellowship because those Heathens do not believe as we do. We do not share wisdom since we had to learn it the hard way so should they. Part of being nice is sharing and giving all these things. In the case of knowledge, books are expensive, and many folks learn best by talking to other people anyway. How are we to expect new Heathens to learn if we withhold knowledge from them in the misguided idea they should be able to find the information on their own? They may not even know where to look. This goes for wisdom too. Why should we not pass on what we have learned with our experiences? Should we expect new folk to repeat the same mistakes we have made in order to learn? Even withholding fellowship due to differences in how a group performs rites is robbing oneself and others of what could be a wonderful experience.

The gift of fellowship goes along with the virtue of hospitality.

Water, too, that he may wash before eating
Handcloth’s and a hearty welcome,
Courteous words, then courteous silence
That he may tell his tale.
(Havamal 4)

In ancient times when there were no inns, hotels, or motels hospitality was a highly prized virtue. Strangers would stop by farmhouses, be invited in, be offered drink, eat a meal, and be offered a place to sleep. In doing so they would reward the hospitality with tales of what was going on in the world, perhaps sing a song, or recite a poem. At its heart hospitality is more than just welcoming someone in one’s home. It means sharing in fellowship with them. Today, we often neglect this virtue. We do not often welcome folks in our homes and most of us do not host gatherings. The thing is that being hospitable does not only mean being kind to guests in person, but online as well. A person that joins an internet group or forum is a guest of the person running the group or forum. They should be accorded all the things they would if that person were in the person’s home. The same rules apply. One would not maltreat a guest in one’s home or allow others to do so. So why then do we allow folks to do so online? At the same time most of us if we were at the home of a friend would not start a brawl in his living room with another guest. So why start an argument with a person in a forum online? Somehow we have developed this idea because it is not face to face the same rules do not apply. The truth is the same rules apply regardless. They are not just rules for when someone is face to face, but rules involving any form of human interaction be it via telephone, on the internet, or shouting from mountain top to mountain top. Simply, because you cannot see the person’s face does not mean all rules for how to treat other people are thrown out the window.

How to be generous and hospitable should be second nature to a Heathen given how many maxims are given in the Lore regarding both. No one should have to tell any Heathen how to be generous or hospitable. It is quite simple to explain. Always be giving of oneself and one’s wealth, and always be kind to guests. It is as simple as that.

Compromise

Somewhere along the line some modern Heathens got the idea that compromise was a sign of weakness. We were taught to stand up for ourselves, to stand our ground, to not give an inch to the enemy. The problem is the person we are disagreeing with is, I hope, not really our enemy. No one is going to die if we agree to disagree on whether mead or wine is better to offer to Odin. We are not fighting over land, or resources, or people. It is not a life and death struggle, an all or nothing endeavor. Yet people will sometimes spew venom in Heathen debates as if their very lives depended on it, as if losing the argument would lead to some national disaster. And when you get two people thinking like this, a situation spirals downward very quickly. Online you end up with line after line of insults, veiled threats, derogatory remarks, and it goes on and on. The thing is, Heathens generally debate ideas, and in the long list of things; spouse, children, family friends, community, ideas are not real high on my list. There are many things I would defend before my ideas. We are not Christians that must defend the Word of God. So there is no reason when one is debating something about Heathenry that they should not compromise, or at least agree to disagree. No amount of arguing is going to change some people’s minds, and it is best to simply agree to disagree and go on. The desire to be right should never override the community’s right to grith and frith. If Heathenry is to survive we must learn to compromise. I have many friends whose ideas I do not agree with. We differ in how we approach the gods, we differ in how we view the importance of the gods versus the ancestors, we differ in what things to offer, and many other things. It does not stop me from being nice to them. I think more than anything compromise may be the one thing that can save Heathenry a whole world of heartache.

Compromising with someone is very easy to do in a way. It simply means finding a middle ground on which all parties can agree. It means saying I have this right, but I have this wrong while you have that right, but you have that wrong. Even when folks cannot agree, a compromise can be reached. Folks can agree to cease whatever potentially hostile exchange is taking place and agree to disagree. No more need to be said. The idea that one must stand his or her ground has done more to hurt Heathenry than anything perhaps. It has been the cause of many a debate spiraling downward into an argument to an all-out fight. There is no reason for this when it is so easy to compromise. Part of compromising is admitting when one is wrong and apologizing for any transgression one may have committed, and offering recompense for any harm done. Many within Heathenry see this as a sign of weakness. It is not. It takes more strength to admit one is wrong and then accept the consequences without sign of regret than it does to maintain that one is right despite all evidence to the contrary. It is never wrong to admit guilt and accept what one has coming to him or her. Indeed, one shows weakness when one refuses to admit he or she is wrong. Such stubbornness is the sign of immaturity; it is behaving as a child. Real men and women confess when they have been wrong regardless of what the consequences may be. I do believe many problems within Heathenry could be avoided if folks were simply willing to compromise.

Common Courtesy

Common courtesy is something that has fallen out of favor in general in the United States, and perhaps the world as a whole. Children are no longer taught etiquette, and since common courtesy was often taught side by side with it, it was no longer taught also. At its core common courtesy means placing the needs of others before those of oneself and exerting enough self-control to do so. It consists of a couple of ideas. The first, what most folks think of is politeness. Politeness is more than just opening a door for someone. It is more than saying “please,” and “thank you.” It means managing one’s actions so as to make others think better of themselves. Being polite means raising others’ self-esteem through proper behavior. As such one would not want to do the opposite, which is do things that lower others’ self-esteem. Tied to this is civility. Civility means being civil in debates, not stooping to insults or vulgarities. One should not insult people’s intelligence. Just because a new person asks a question that seems to be stupid does not give us the right to call that person a moron. They are new, and are learning, and do not know better. Do not call someone names simply because they disagree with our point of view. Everyone has a right to their own opinions, and if we want to change their opinion there are more constructive ways of dealing with it than calling them an idiot Do not make fun of one’s appearance, hair color, eye color, height, weight, or other physical attributes. They usually have no bearing in debates. In essence, do not be insulting and condescending to people. Many more friends are won if one is gracious and kind in their treatment of others than if he or she is insulting and condescending. After all we may not be concerned with what the person we are derailing thinks of us, but we may be concerned with what many of the others watching the exchange think of us. And who knows, that new Heathen that was insulted might be an IRS auditor. In a way, the reason for common courtesy is very self-centered as it keeps one from hurting those that have the potential to hurt us.

There are many ways to show common courtesy. Perhaps one that would go far in stopping bad behavior is simply taking others’ feelings into account. Do not say or do something to someone to hurt him or her. That is we should not do something to someone that we know would hurt ourselves. If we do not want something done to ourselves, we should not be doing it to other people. There are other ways of showing common courtesy. Part of being polite is trying to improve how people feel about themselves. This may mean giving compliments when needed, perhaps commending them on a job well done. It can mean saying, “please,” “thank you” and “you’re welcome.” It can mean making people feel special in some way. It definitely means not running someone down in public or private. It means not abusing them in anyway, physically or verbally. I think common courtesy could go far in stopping bad behavior within Heathenry. And if someone is discourteous to you, do not pay back in kind. Do not sink to their level. Be the better man or woman and remain courteous, even if it means politely telling him or her that he or she is wrong.

Compassion

Compassion may seem like an idea alien to Heathenry, but if you look at the verses in the Havamal, the Anglo-Saxon Maxims, the Anglo-Saxon Rune Poem one will see that it is not.

My garments once I gave in the field
to two land-marks made as men;
heroes they seemed when once they were clothed;
’tis the naked who suffer shame!
(Havamal 49)

Indeed, many of the verses in the Havamal about giving and hospitality can be interpreted as being about compassion. One can also see compassion in the verse for the rune Giefu in the Anglo-Saxon Rune Poem.

Generosity brings credit and honour, which support one’s dignity;
it furnishes help and subsistence
to all broken men who are devoid of aught else.

If we look closely compassion is lurking behind many verses in the Lore. We never think of it as it is always cloaked under the guise of hospitality or generosity. But what we are being told in those verses about hospitality and generosity is that one should show concern for those that have less than us, which have suffered some misfortune, those that are in some need of care. Modern Heathenry is not devoid of compassion. When Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans in 2005, many Heathens worked together to aid fellow Heathens who were uprooted in the storm. It was perhaps the noblest coming together of the greater Heathen community I have ever seen. Heathens have come together for other causes as well. The thing is we seem to do well with big things, but many Heathens do not seem to have compassion in the day to day going ons of the world. We have been taught that every man and woman should stand on his or her own.  We have been taught that each person must make his or her own way. Somehow we feel if folks cannot be self-reliant they are deficient in some way, that they are not in the gods’ favor, or simply that they are not trying hard enough. There are many reasons one might be in need of help through no fault of his or her own. He or she may be physically or mentally disabled, suffered an illness or injury that put him or her out of work, he or she may not be able to find a job that pays well enough to keep him or her afloat. There is any number of reasons one might not have the means to adequately take care of him or herself.

There are many ways to show compassion. In can be in the form of giving to a cause when there is some kind of hardship such as a family loses their home to a fire. Similarly, one can give when a family has a major illness. Usually though compassion can be shown everyday just for little things. One may be especially nice to a friend or stranger that has had a particularly rough day. That may be as simple as buying him or her drink at a bar, or taking him or her out to lunch. It can simply be sitting down and talking to someone so he or she does not feel alone. We should not expect people to be strong enough or have the resources to handle any given situation. To be honest I have often wondered where this attitude that a person must stand on his or her own two feet, that they must rough it alone comes from. I can think of no instances in the lore where folks had to endure hardships alone. Even the most hardened outlaws in the Lore had friends and family that gave them aid. All, I can figure is that it is some carry over from modern American society. That is the idea that one must be strong and not need any help at all comes from the Christian host society we live in, and not from ancient Heathenry.  Part of compassion is being understanding too. One takes into account one may not know as much because they are new, or one takes into account one is disabled and cannot perform the same work, or one simply takes into account that someone is having a bad day. Understanding means excusing things we may not normally excuse. A lot of problems in Heathenry seem to be due to a lack of compassion. People seem unwilling to help others despite the maxims on generosity and hospitality. It should not be that way.

A lot of heartache in Heathenry could be saved if people just strive to be nice to one another. Kindness gains one more friends, the admiration of the community, and can make someone feel better about his or herself. There is no reason to be mean spirited. I realize many are trying to appear like they are tough, battle hardened Vikings, but in truth none of us are. We are modern Americans that go to work, go home, to go to work again. In between we spend time with family and friends. At some point, we have to place the community above ourselves, to put the needs of others above our own. And really that is all being nice is about.

Life Lessons Learned as a Heathen

Garman Lord commented in a thread in a group the other day that he thought perhaps Heathens needed to develop compassion. I agree. I think we need to develop compassion among many other virtues. For the most part what we have from the Lore to determine our behavior are maxims from the Havamal, the Anglo-Saxon Maxims, the sagas. Many of these maxims such as the treatment of women are out of date, and may not have even been true when written down. They certainly were not reflective of all Germanic cultures. Others did not take in account such things as communicating via the written word. They were intended for activity in the hall, face to face communications. In my years as a Heathen, through much trial and error I have come up with ways I have of dealing with other Heathens. I did not always abide by these, I was hard headed, hot headed, and a bit of a loud mouth, but after a Heathen life spent partly in the public eye I had to come up with ways of coping. Here are the rules I try to keep for myself. They are not all inclusive. I left out many things already covered by the Lore. And by no means are they the only right way of coping with things.

1) Above all else, be nice to everyone. Sure someone may rub you the wrong way, but until they give you reason to behave otherwise be kind to them. Sometimes you might just have to agree to disagree to continue being nice to them. But it is always best to be gracious and kind.

2) Give everyone the benefit of the doubt. This is especially true of internet communications. The internet is an inefficient way of communicating. Different people can mean different things by what they say. Much of what we communicate is done through body language, facial expressions, and inflections of the voice. What would clearly be a sarcastic remark in person, may come off as something entirely different on the internet. Jokes may be taken seriously. If in doubt, always ask for clarification if you are unclear on something someone has said or you have read.

3) Private and personal matters are just that, personal and private. What goes on in another kindred, someone else’s family, between a man and a wife is no one else’s concern. I used to allow myself to be drawn into such things, and have found unless it was a close friend, being drawn in always ended badly. If someone tries to draw you into say a conflict in a kindred, just listen, understand you are only getting one side of the story, and go about your business.

4) Take rumors with a grain of salt. This is in full agreement with some maxims from the lore. Unless, you have absolute proof a rumor is true i.e. a criminal conviction in a secular trial, do not place much weight in hearsay. If in doubt ask the person in question. Rumors are like the telephone game, things get twisted so that what was said may not even be close to what is true.

5) There is always two or more sides to a story. Do not assume what someone is telling you is true. Try to get all sides before making a judgement. Even then both parties may be lying, see number 4.

6) There is no single right way of doing things, only things that may be more right. The Lore is a starting point. We have no Bible and Heathenry is not an orthodox faith. We have no dogma. So unless something clearly violates what we know from the lore such as a belief that Woden is the goddess of butterflies, do not be critical of someone for believing or doing as they do. We are all learning, and ours is an ever evolving and organic religion. Do not expect people to know everything. No one is an expert on Heathenry. As I have often said an Anglo-Saxon child living 1600 years ago probably knows more than the most studious of Heathen adults today. We have different rates of learning, and everyone has gaps in their knowledge.

7) Always seek to maintain grith with those not of your group, and frith with those within. This may mean making a lot of compromises, but always be ready to compromise to maintain the peace and the prosperity of the community as a whole. No one’s personal honor is worth destroying a community over.

8) Accept that people change. Many in the Heathen community today have prison records. They did things when they were young which they regret, and have lived honorable lives ever since. Just because someone stole a car when they were 17 does not mean that at age 35 they are still a bad person. Note I do not extend this to child molesters as I feel they should be put to death. Also accept there are those with mental illnesses whose behavior before treatment was unacceptable. The most we can expect of the mentally ill is for them to seek treatment, and the best we can expect of an ex-con is for them to reform.

9)Accept that you too are fallible. All of us have made mistakes, and there is no sense in beating yourself up over it. Simply admit your mistakes make reparations and go on. The best we can do is live honorably in the now and the future.

10) Do not rely on only one book or webpage for your knowledge. Expand your horizons and seek out as many views on the Lore as possible. Do not exclude UPG on questions that cannot be answered by the Lore.

11) Try to make Heathenry a living experience. I once found myself simply living for knowledge. I found myself much happier though sharing a horn with other Heathens discussing our lives than just reading some dry tome on Heathenry. Do rites regularly.

12) Do not neglect your ancestors. Most of us have seem to come into Heathenry worshiping the gods due to that is what we are familiar with. It is often only later we learn to worship our ancestors. Your ancestors have a vested interest in you. Your success or failure reflects on their good name. Most of what I do is for the ancestors. I turn to them first. It took me decades to learn to do that though.

In essence, try to be understanding of other people, and at the same time do not try to limit yourself. There has been enough bickering and fighting in Heathenry without there being more. We should strive to build communities where the frith is always maintained

Informal Rites Versus Formal Rites

Theodism was once known, and perhaps still is for its pomp and circumstance. Some rites are done with much flare, a way to show off for the masses. It is through Theodism that I became familiar with formal rites as opposed to informal ones. From the Theodish point of view most
rites performed by other types of Heathens, even those at large gatherings are informal. They simply do not have the trappings of a formal rite. In general, they are no different than the rites one might perform at home with one’s family. That is not to say these rites are not effective in making an offering to the gods, or sharing a horn in symbel. It is to say they have nothing that stands out to mark them as different. There is nothing about them for someone to remember that particular offering or that particular symbel ten years from now.

What makes this so is the difference between informal and formal rites. Informal rites are the bare bones of a rite without added elements. For offerings this would mean just having prayers, the blessing, and the offering. For symbel it would mean having the three formal rounds without added offices such as horn bearer, and no formal speech. Formal rites have more details added to them that makes folks remember them. For an offering these added details might mean more prayers both in English and an elder tongue like Old Norse or Old English with priests dressed in ritual garb. The outlines of these rites may be more complex with more ritual actions. For example, with a formal offering incense or

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raw herbs might be burned as an offering to begin the rite, or runes might be read after the offering to determine if it was successful. The prayers may be sung instead of spoken. With symbel, making the rite more formal may mean a formal beginning to the rite with the horn bearer offering the horn to the symbel host, and the symbel host welcoming the attendees. The rounds in symbel may be handled differently. For example, the rounds to the gods and ancestors may be performed by the symbel host for the entire group before moving on to the informal rounds. There are many ways a rite may be made more formal. Amongst the theods there are outlines for formal rites vs. informal ones. Other groups may want to find their own ways of making rites more formal.

The question then is, why does one need formal rites? What purpose do they serve? Informal rites are rites of convenience. They are deliberately simple so that anyone can perform them at any time without much thought. In that they serve an important purpose. Everyone should be able to perform a rite without having to plan it out in great detail, and in some cases rehearse it weeks in advance. In our busy world we often do not have time for such planning, and such attention to detail. Informal rites are vital to Heathenry in that they are easy to perform, and do not require much planning. They are the T-shirt and jeans of the ritual world.

However, it is this ease of use with informal rites that makes formal rites necessary. Folks become accustomed to kindred leaders saying prayers, blessing the folk, and passing the horn around. It becomes part of the ordinary, the mundane. The same is true of symbel. Time in and time out you know the order the rounds will take, perhaps even what gods and goddesses will be hailed in the gods round. Again it becomes a part of the ordinary, the mundane.

Sometimes you need to wear a tuxedo or gown to show how memorable or serious something is though. Formal rites are the tuxedos and formal gowns of the ritual world.  Formal rites serve the purpose of setting an offering apart from the ordinary, from the mundane. The intention of a formal rite is to make that particular rite special, not just for the gods, but for the folk as well.

It is said you get out of something what you put into it. If you put little effort into performing rites you are likely to get little out of them. On the other hand if you put a lot of effort into a rite then you are likely to get a great deal out of it. Therefore, formal rites are performed to create a sense of awe and wonder, to make an impression on everyone that hey, this is an important thing we are doing here. This day we perform this rite will be like no other.

Formal rites set time and space apart from the ordinary so that whatever happens will be remembered. An impression will be made that will not be forgotten. Ten years from now you may well remember that formal rite. However, one must keep in mind formal rites if performed too often cease to be special. They therefore should be reserved for special events such as the sacrifice of an animal  or a large gathering of folk. Otherwise, they will become ordinary.

I sometimes think Heathenry overlooks the need for formal rites. We have become accustomed and comfortable in performing rites a certain way so much so that even when a formal rite might be called for we fall back on the tried and true. I am as guilty as much as anyone. I have not participated in a formal rite in a few years. This is mainly because I have not been to a major gathering in that time, but there have been opportunities with my own group where I could have done a formal rite, and instead fallen back on the tried and true. Never the less I encourage those that are planning major gatherings to make the rites special, make them formal, impress the gods and the folk. Make those rites, rites to remember.

The Blog is Back

This blog, formerly know as Swain Wodening’s Blog went offline a year to two years ago. At the time I was withdrawing from public Heathenry, and really felt I could no longer maintain the blog. I could not see adding new posts. Too, there were many posts I was not happy with because I felt they were poorly written or were dated. The plan at the time was to bring the blog back at some point as sort of archive after deleting the posts I felt were below my skill set.

Over a year ago though a friend of mine began talking to me about becoming active regionally again. She and her folk had withdrawn from public Heathenry several years ago. They pretty much kept to themselves. I too, while active online had done the same, not having been to a regional gathering since 2006.   She and her group began holding small regional gatherings in their state, and last weekend they held one in my area.

The results of that gathering were magical. It felt like the old days of ten years ago when folks in the region gathered for camaraderie. There was much hugging amongst old fiends overjoyed to see each other after so long a time, and many new friends were made. Prior to the gathering we had been talking about making the region more active again, and even started a Facebook group with that idea in mind. This got me to thinking, and I saw that perhaps there was still a need for my blog, and resolved to bring it back.

Right now I do not know how often I will be making posts. I am quite busy these days, and may not have time to post often. There is no way I can keep the pace I once did of at least one post a week. I will try to make the occasional post. The plan is quality over quantity. Where once I would compose many posts in a month, now I plan to make only one or two of a better quality than most of my old posts. I want to be making well thought out posts. Regardless, it feels good to have the blog back, and I hope you bookmark it for further reading.

Why I Do Not Call the Horn Bearer in Symbel a Valkyrie

On my personal account on Facebook we are discussing the use of the term Valkyrie for ale bearers at symbel a modern custom I have always been against. The argument most groups use for using the term is that it is used with great respect and because the ale bearer is serving mead just as the Valkyries do in Valhalla. There are several problems with the use of the term in my mind however. I have boiled them down to the following.

1) We know from the Anglo-Saxon glosses the Wælcyrgan (Valkyries) were equated with vicious, wrathful beings, with not too attractive features. While their appearance may not be that unattractive as the word Wælcyrge also glossed Venus, the fact remains most of the glosses are for such beings as the Classical Furies and the Gorgon. The fact that a group is using the term for ale bearer out of great respect to the Valkyries may make no difference to them. In other words using the term may pack supernatural repercussions of wrathful beings that feel they are being disrespected by mortal women being equated with them. I for one would not want to do anything to piss them off.

2) The use of the term Valkyrie simply because the ale bearer plays a similar role to the Valkyries of Valhalla at feast would be like me calling myself the Ás (one of the Æsir) of Symbel simply because I am playing the role of Odin as host. Were I to do that I would be laughed out of Heathenry. Why should using the term Valkyrie for ale bearers in symbel be any different?

3) No where in the lore are the Valkyries said to pour mead at symbel. They do so at feast in Valhalla, but no where that I know of is symbel mentioned as taking place in Valhalla. Were a symbel to take place in Valhalla the role of ale bearer would fall to Frigga as she is Odin’s wife and therefore lady of the hall. It is her place to play that role of high honor not the Valkyries.

4) One of the roles of the ale bearer in symbel is to be a friþwebba “frith weaver.” This term is used of Wealtheow in Beowulf in reference to her role in symbel. The horn bearer is the one to keep peace during the rite. Valkyries are not peace keepers they are wights of war. The view of Valkyries as beautiful blonde maidens with slender arms pouring mead for the heroes of Valhalla with kind words and soft eyes is a romanticized view. Instead they are more like warlike women wading through the gore of the battlefield marking heroes for death. Picture a vicious Xena Warrior Princess even more warlike covered in blood killing the heroic and carrying them to Valhalla. This is a far cry from the image of Wealtheow in Beowulf as the elegant jewel bedecked lady of the hall serving mead with flattering words, kind eyes, and only once leveling a very diplomatically worded veiled threat to Beowulf.

All that said there are many other perhaps more appropriate terms and phrases one can use for the lady of the hall’s role in symbel. The term used in the Old English lore is ealu-bora “ale bearer.” One could adapt this to medu-bora “mead bearer.” Another could be hyrn-bora “horn bearer.” One of my friends used the phrase Lady of the Mead. Another term once commonly used is mead warder. Why it ever fell out of use I do not know. I always like horn bearer myself. Alternately, one could use words for “lady” like Old English ides or Old Norse dís which were used both of mortal and supernatural women. Or one could come up with their own term that describes the role other than Valkyrie.

One thing I do want to point out is the role of horn bearer by the lady of the hall is a role she should only play the first round or first couple of rounds of symbel in my opinion. After that the role of pouring the mead should be taken over by what we in Wednesbury call byrelas (singular byrele) or “cup bearers.” These are usually young men and women. They take over so the lady of the hall can sit down and enjoy symbel.

This has long been an issue for me. And I do not mean to sound critical of those that do use the term Valkyrie for the ale bearer in symbel. There are many groups and individuals for which it is the custom to use the term Valkyrie of the horn bearer that I deeply care for and/or respect. I merely want to point out why I do not use the term myself that way, and why I discourage others from doing so.