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Thread: Personal Moral and Heathen Ethic

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    Personal Moral and Heathen Ethic

    The Havamal is very clear on many matters that apply to daily life.

    I think it safe to say that Heathens today define their folkway as one of ‘independent self-sufficiency’, and of ‘personal and collective strength and self-responsibility’. Likewise, this is determined within one’s personal ‘shieldwall’ of kin and kith.

    Because kith is also so close to kin, it's worth looking at. Today, the word is mostly understood to mean ‘friend’; and on that subject, the Havamal has much to say. And though it is easy – and more often than not, convenient – to rely on the ‘friend verses’ as justification to hate another Heathen, and so spread that hate through others who may have never met that individual, I am hardpressed to generally apply my Heathen morality to the words and deeds of my ancestors.

    Kith means, “acquaintances, friends, neighbors, or the like; a group of people living in the same area and forming a culture with a common language, customs, economy, etc.” It is an Old English word (from cyðð [or cyth]) meaning, “native country, home”; and is rooted in cuð (cuth) meaning, “known”. So, essentially it is both a friend and someone you know (to include a neighbor).

    An expression my grandparents used to say was, “A neighbor is as good as kin.” In that their closest neighbor (on all sides) was at least 2 miles away, this made sense. Today, I’ve been assisted by, and assisted total strangers, out of ‘friendship’ – or that sense of shared humanness when one encounters another in need.

    Rich with money, one who holds to advantage – should no man need suffer.
    Often that which is spared for a dear friend is levied unwillingly.
    Much goes worse than is forethought.
    –Havamal 40

    So is the idea of kith (or any other idea expressed in Havamal) a moral or an ethic?

    Lets look at those two words:
    -moral, “of, pertaining to, or concerned with the principles or rules of right conduct or the distinction between right and wrong”;
    -ethic, “the body of moral principles or values governing or distinctive of a particular culture or group”, and “a complex of moral precepts held or rules of conduct followed by an individual: a personal ethic”.
    It’s interesting to note that both these words come from Latin, then Greek, and were not introduced into English until the middle to late 1300s.

    "To be sure, the word êra was also used later to render the Latin word honestum, even with its additional meaning of moral rectitude as found in the writings of the Stoic philosophers; yet, as we shall see, this new meaning never took firm root in the vernacular. In fact, because it seems to appear almost only in translation, it is even conceivable that the translators did not really appreciate the new value implied by the Stoic authors. In any case, I am not ready to believe that the vernacular word êra actually began to have a moral connotation at the time of Notker, the eleventh-century monk of St. Gall, as Theodor Frings and Elisabeth Karg-Gasterstadt suggest."
    -Dr. George Jones, Honor in German Literature

    And from the same text:

    "Goethe (or Boccaccio?) distinguishes between a woman's Ehre and her Tugend. In the Procurator, a short story in Goethe's Unterhaltungen deutscher Ausgewanderter, a merchant husband warns his young wife against frivolous young men who "der Ehre noch mehr als der Tugend einer Frau gefährlich sind." This contrast need not go back to Boccaccio's original, since Schiller contrasts them likewise. In his Kabale und Liebe (II, 3), Ferdinand distinguishes between Tugend and Ehre and says that the former often survives the latter. Lady Milford compares her own Ehre with Luise's Tugend (IV, 8). Paul Fischer's Goethe-Wortschatz ( Leipzig, 1929) lists no example of Ehre or its compounds in the moral sense of the word."

    (Note: Underscores are mine; and Tugend is “self-restraint”, and Ehre is “honor”; see my essays on Hôher Muot or "High Mindedness".)

    Dr. Jones further notes:
    "As we shall see, when the Teutons first became familiar with the words honos and honestus, these words still had completely amoral connotations."

    From these examples then, the idea of moral and ethic, as applied today, stands in contrast to how our ancestors would have viewed these terms. And to be clear:

    "The Mirror of the Saxons, echoing ancient laws, says that a woman who sullies her womanly honor through the chastity of her body will lose neither her rights nor her inheritance. (“Wîph mach mit unkûscheit ires lîbis ir wîphlichen êre krenken; ir recht ne virlûsit se dar me de nicht noch ir erve.”)

    Today, many view Havamal as a handbook of Heathen ethic; even using its ‘friend verses’ to justify hatred and in-fighting against individuals and/or groups often without having any firsthand contact with either. Yet, from the examples given, it seems that those who do this are living in ignorance of true, historic based, Heathen value; relying instead upon those laid out by modern society, which are Judeo-Christian based.

    It is easy to see how this happens:
    -First, Havamal lists guidelines that were clear to its contemporary reader, but are further removed from the real world experiences of modern Heathens than many would like to acknowledge.
    -Second, few actually study the language Havamal was written in, relying instead upon antiquated and/or university approved translations (or those that would deny a philosophical perspective to the ‘barbarian hordes’, or ‘primitive man’).
    -And finally, because it’s just too easy to not apply thought to such matters and so tout the party line.
    As to this latter in relation to the friend verses, all too often Heathens will hear the ill-words of a friend in regards to another, and without ‘going straight to the horse’, will believe everything they are told. Clearly, this shows a lack of self-responsibility in endeavoring to discern the truth of a matter; so it can be said that the alleged ill-friend is better off any way – for who wants to meet and associate with such a close-minded individual. Unfortunately, however, this situation is not so easily brushed aside, for it leads to rumor mongering, which leads to in-fighting, which is mostly petty he-said/she-said situations not even worthy of Thing.

    Regarding the first example above (or those verses that seem clear cut), a good one is:
    Only one step away on level ground shall a man boldly walk from his weapon.
    Because he never knows what un-safe surroundings may happen near the road outside – around weapons a man needs be.
    -Havamal 38

    For many today this verse carries an almost romantic notion – of the lone wolf, of the singular Viking, self-sufficient and able to defend himself to the death. And no doubt, this idea (minus the romantic part) was probably quite true in some circumstances, but more at hand is that fact that a weapon was also a tool. From a sword to a dagger, an axe to a club, a bow to a sling, such devices would have also been used in a utilitarian manner. So that, in addition to weapons training, our forebears would have had real world experience with such devices.

    For example, I always carry a knife, and use it often - either to cut food (sharper than a butter knife in a restaurant), to perform minor car repair, for first aid (removing a splinter), or some other chore. Likewise, last weekend I learned to appreciate the simple effective beauty of a hand axe.

    Mostly, as a primitive camper, I use an axe to chop wood. Last weekend I cleared two paths and a raised area for Sitting-Out with nothing but a Norse Hawk. In a very short period of time it became my right-hand. Literally. I never put it down. I used it to cut, shape, trim, dig, and even keep myself from falling – when, at the last moment, I would throw its edge about a tree to keep me upright.

    Which brings us to the second example (of simply not studying the language of Heathen lore); for the words we speak are more than sounds but representative of ideas that are rooted in the depth of our folkway; or, the depth of another cultures folkway (as is the case with ‘moral’ and ‘ethic’). So instead of assuming one knows the meaning of a word and the idea behind it, or instead of relying upon antiquated and university based translations to relate the words/ideas of one’s ancestry, take the time to discover this firsthand; and/or support Heathens who are doing this much needed work.

    So the next time you apply a personal moral, or a collective ethic, consider that those two words and their applications were alien thoughts to pre-conversion Heathens. Seeking out how one’s ancestors thought and applied their thought is the very pulse of reclaiming the Heathen folkway.

    Die Sonne scheint noch.

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    Tugend is “self-restraint”
    Tugend does not mean self-restraint. It has nothing to do with that.

    Tugend is the ability, innate or acquired, to do things, or to behave in such a way, as it is most beneficial, to oneself, and to ones environment.

    And the word did have a "moral" undertone, since earliest times. Someone who has Tugend is considered, is regarded, is respected, is recommended, because he is as he should be, he is as everyone wishes to be.

    Wolfram von Eschenbach (1200 AD) says: <der keiser Karl hat vil tugent>
    This means not rhe emperor Charlemagne had much "self-restraint", but it means he had many proper features as a leader.

    In the Hildebrandslied (850 AD) it says: <ibu dir din ellen touc>
    This means: "if your body strength will be enough (in the upcoming fight)"

    In both cases, the meaning does have a moral connotation. Charlemagne should have the Tugend, and the body strength of a man should be enough.

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    Morality in Asatru/Heathenism

    Just like all religions or spiritual paths, Asatru/Heathenism has a moral code, that lays out how people ought to act. Many Heathens attempt to live by the "Nine Noble Virtues" as seen above. Rather than a list of "thou shalt" type decrees from an all-powerful God, they are simple, yet profound guidelines which we can use our judgement as to how and when to enforce them. For example, what should you do when the need to be hospitable conflicts with fidelity, or any other of the virtues? In such a case the man or woman must use their own judgement and be fully prepared to live with the consequences of their actions (or inactions). Thus Heathenism offers a fully developed morality that encourages careful consideration because it is on you, and you alone to deal with the choices you make.

    This sort of what I call "adaptive morality" reflects the environment -social and natural - in which our Germanic forebears lived. Theirs was a world in which you constantly had to be able to read subtle changes that if missed could be deadly, a set of unchanging rules in such an environment would have proved disastrous. Even now we are seeing a reawakening of the traditional European mindset of a rejection of absolute rules.

    When you die, there is no realm of eternal bliss or pain. Those who live good, honourable lives will generally go to one of the halls of the Gods -usually one with whom they had an affinity. For example, a good lawyer might go to Tyr's Hall. Naturally, warriors who fall in battle might be chosen to become Einherjar, Odin's men who dwell in Valhalla where they fight all day and feast all night in preparation for Ragnarok.

    Those who do not live just lives are condemned to Náströnd (Corpse Shore), it is the afterlife for those guilty of murder, adultery and oath-breaking. As such it is an unpleasant place to spend the afterlife, with corrosive poison dripping on the condemned, and attacks from Níðhöggr. Again this is not eternal, as Náströnd is in Hel, and like all of creation save for a single pair of humans, Líf and Lífþrasir and a handful of Gods, it will be destroyed in Ragnarok.

    As the Asatru Alliance puts it:

    " Some of the qualities we hold in high regard are strength, courage, joy, honour, freedom, loyalty to kin, realism, vigour, and the revering of our ancestors. To express these things in our lives is virtuous, and we strive to do this. Their opposites - weakness, cowardice, adherence to dogma rather than to the realities of the world, and the like - constitute vices and are to be avoided. Proper behaviour in Asatru consists of maximizing one's virtues and minimizing one's vices. This code of conduct reflects the highest and most heroic ideals of our people."

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