Heathenry does not have “commandments” from our Gods, for our relationship with the Heathen Gods is one of respect, honor, and kinship. Heathens do not grovel before their Gods, nor do they “worship” them as sheep to a shephard, slaves to a master, or ignorant children to an all-knowing father. We are in awe of the glory of our Gods, but we do not teach our children that they are worthless and undeserving of the love of their Gods.
Rather than of a list of commandments and “thou shall not’s,” modern Heathenry places importance on certain virtues or values that one can say are part of a life well-lived. Many have attempted to codify or formalize these “Noble Virtues” into lists that include definitions or information about each virtue. These lists of Noble Virtues are a modern creation based on our reading and understanding of the surviving Lore. They are drawn from the epic tales and poetic lore passed down to us through the ages from our ancestors, and many a Tru Heathen strives to nourish these Noble Virtues in his life, his Kindred, and Heathenry in general.
Because of the tribal and decentralized nature of Heathenry, there are various lists of “Noble Virtues.” These lists closely parallel each other, but the exact words used, the definitions given, and even the number of virtues included in each list can vary. Some Heathens focus very little, if at all, on a list of the Noble Virtues, considering these lists a modern invention and not paricularly relevant to their own beliefs and practices.
It is worth saying again that the Noble Virtues are not commandments. They are not “scripture.” They are simply moral and situational ethical guidelines. Each Heathen tends to have his or her favorite version of the Noble Virtues. New heathens can gain great benefit from familiarizing themselves with a particular list and attempting to live according to the guidelines provided there.
A KEY POINT TO CONSIDER
As guidelines, the Noble Virtues don’t always apply. They are very situational in nature and must be applied with the context of the situation in mind. The key to the Noble Virtues is doing the correct thing, at the proper time, toward the right people. For instance, while Truthfulness is listed among the Noble Virtues, a Heathen does not owe honesty to his worst enemies. In the Havamal it tells us that one should meet lies with lies. So, from a situational standpoint, there is a time and place where showing honestly would not be a virtue, because to do so would harm one’s own family and efforts.
While being industrious and working hard is listed among the Noble Virtues, this does not suggest that you should work hard for efforts being led by people you don’t like, toward goals with which you don’t agree. There is a time and place for hard work, and some efforts and obligations have priority over others, depending on the context of the situation. It is a virtue to work hard to fulfill your obligations and to accomplish worthy goals, while it is a fool’s errand to work hard on an effort that will literally accomplish nothing.
While showing hospitality is among the list of Noble Virtues, if someone is repeatedly a bad guest, betrays your trust, or repeatedly fails to reciprocate hopitality you have shown them when given the opportunity, there is a point and time where you no longer owe them hospitality. Showing hospitality in such situations is actually ill-advised rather than virtuous.
And this brings me to my point. You will see and hear heathens (especially on the internet) throwing the Noble Virtues at one another as if they were commandments from our Gods. This is not, and never was, the purpose of the Noble Virtues. When you see that happening, shake your head a bit in wonder at the lack of understanding the person has of the Noble Virtues, and move on. The person accusing someone on the internet of “violating” the Noble Virtues has completely missed the point.
THE NOBLE VIRTUES DEFINED
An internet search will quickly confirm that there are already many existing lists of the Noble Virtues. The list below is not an attempt to re-invent the Noble Virtues or alter them in any way. What I’ve tried to do below, is consolidate the many lists of Noble Virtues out there, and provide each virtue with a meaning and context in my own words, based on my own understandings and beliefs. While I did attempt to boil these virtues down to one word (in bold type), I have provided alternative words as well to help convey the complexity of meaning involved in each virtue. I have also put these virtues in an order that conveys its own deeper meaning about how these virtues are interconnected.
1. FAMILY (Frith, Loyalty, Honor) – Nothing is more important than your family. Our ancestors sacrificed and struggled to improve their lives and to give us advantages in ours. These ancestors watch us, help us, and we should live a life of which they can be proud. Now it is our turn to sacrifice and struggle to build a foundation upon which our descendants can build their lives. Our time, effort, energy, and Luck must be dedicated to doing the work necessary to build and maintain strong, stable Heathen famillies. We must raise our children with the knowledge and tools they need to be productive and honorable in their own lives. We must be Frithful, and understand that we are one with our family and our kindred. Our identity, our accomplishments, our Orlog, and our Luck is intertwined and interconnected with those we call kin…as are our problems, hardships, and failures. We must be loyal and stand by our kin, as they are loyal and stand by us. The Honor and Reputation of our familes and kin must be carefully and diligently protected, maintained, and advanced forward. Our families and kindred are our primary obligation, and there is no better measure of a Heathen’s worth than how well he/she fulfills that obligation.
2. RESPONSIBILITY (Self-Reliance, Respect) – Within our families and kindreds, each individual must carry their own weight, fulfill their obligations to the group, and bring all of their individual skills, knowledge, and wisdom to the work at hand. As an individual within a familiy or kindred, you should feel a deep commitment and responsibility to the protection and success of the group and its efforts. Your family and kindred are always there for you, but it is important to be able to take care of yourself and not unnecessarily burden the group with problems or hardships that could have been avoided. Within our families and kindreds, we owe the other individuals in the group the respect they deserve, and they owe us the respect we have earned.
3. HARD WORK (Industry, Determination) – We are our deeds. This means we will be remembered for what we accomplish in this life. We gain renown and build Luck based on what we do, how we do it, and the successes we enjoy. One key to accomplishing real and lasting things in this world, is to find deeds that need doing, work hard at making them happen, and not letting set-backs or difficulties discourage us. We owe it to our families and ourselves to give 100% effort to all of the worthy tasks and efforts in which we involve ourselves. We get one chance at this life, and through hard work and determination we can lead productive, memorable, accomplished lives.
4. TRUTH (Honesty, Wisdom) – Heathens should be honest and direct. Lies, deceit, and a lack of straightforward communication complicate matters, harm families and kindreds, and can destroy reputations. Heathens have an obligation to recognize and champion the truth. This also means avoiding the weakness of lying to yourself and refusing the face harsh truths about yourself or your actions. Learn from your successes and failures, and avoid excuses and the casting of blame on those that don’t deserve it. It is only through blunt honesty with yourself that you can learn how best to succeed in your responsibilities and efforts in your own life and on behalf of your family and kindred. To accomplish lasting things in this world, you must have an honest understanding of the world, the human condition, and the people around you.
5. GENEROSITY (Hospitality) – The acquisition of more and more possessions does not, in and of itself, lead to a more more fulfilling or worthy life. The selfish hoarding of possessions as a goal in and of itself does not benefit one’s family, kindred, or friends. Wealth is worked for and earned for the purpose of supporting and providing for one’s family. The giving of gifts, comfort, and hospitality to others builds friendships and renown for a heathen. Among our ancestors, a generous chieftain was paid the high compliment of being called a gold-hater or a ring-giver, because he provided well for those for which he was responsible. The chieftain who was poorest among his men, because of his generosity toward his men, earned their respect and loyalty. This is true today among modern heathens. Generosity applies to more than just money and wealth, as one is expected to be generous with you time, your work, your advice, and other gifts you have to give. Part of this concept of generosity is being a hospitable host to all those visiting one’s home, whether they be a friend or near stranger.
6. FAIRNESS (Justice, Equity) – We judge people everyday. We make decisions about who we want to associate with, who we want to work with, and who we want around our family and kindred. We should make these decisions fairly, judging individuals by their deeds and accomplishments. We should treat others fairly, giving them the friendship and generosity that they earn and deserve. If asked for advice about a conflict or if asked to mediate a conflict, we should show equity in our advice and decisions, and attempt to reach a result that best resolves the matter and puts things right.
7. BRAVERY (Courage, Boldness) – Fear is a natural emotion or reaction that every human feels. Heathens should not allow themselves to be ruled by fear. The greatest courage and bravery is shown at that exact moment when we are most fearful, and yet still take action. In our modern world, there are subtle fears that can paralyze us into inaction. Fear of failure. Fear of reprisals or condemnation by the majority culture/religion. Fear of judgement by our peers for being different. But, Heathens should be confident in ourselves and our native Folkway, and act with boldness in all of our well-considered efforts.
8. STRENGTH (Endurance, Steadfast) – We have both physical strength and spiritual strength, often referred to as “Might and Main.” Both are important to living a successful and virtuous life. We should put time and energy into maintaining our physical health, because so many other things in life are impossible to accomplish without it. Our spiritual strength is something we can work on as well, learning to persist in our worthy efforts regardless of the long odds and the adversity standing in our way. Spiritual strength also involves having enough confidence in one’s vision and goals to not be swayed by poor advice or the jeers of one’s enemies, but also being strong enough to accept wise advice and the help of one’s friends and family. All great accomplishments are only achieved by facing adversity and challenge, and Heathens must have the strength to overcome whatever stands in their way of accomplishing worthy deeds.
9. MODERATION (Self-control, Self-Rule) – The world is full of joys and pleasures, and Heathenry is a life-affirming world-view that tells us to enjoy ourselves and make the most of our lives. But, one must embrace what life has to offer, always keeping in mind one’s responsibilities, obligations, and the honesty we owe to our families. We must consciously choose our actions wisely and not based on impulses, habits, or unhealthy appetites. To maintain one’s honor and protect one’s Luck, you must at the very least be in control of your own thoughts and deeds. The world’s joys should be enjoyed, but they should never be allowed to rule us…or ruin us.
Of course, some people would say that all religions hold these or similar virues in high regard. People may honestly believe that to be true, but a closer look at the religious teachings and practices of other religions reveals that there are subtle, and at times glaring, differences between the lives Heathens attempt to live and the lives encouraged or enforced by other religions.
THIS IS OUR CULTURAL AND SPIRITUAL INHERITANCE
Members of other religions believe in freedom, yet their scriptures say they are slaves to their God. They may feel they are bold or courageous, but they are told by their religion to love their enemies and forgive them no matter what they do. They may feel they are honorable, but are told to “turn the other cheek” when struck by another. They may believe that peole are innately good and generous, but their teachings laden them with guilt because of some imaginary “original sin” and their unworthyness before their god. They may believe their family comes before all things, but their holy books, their prophets, and their messiahs tell them to choose their god over family members that do not follow the same god. They may feel that they are hospitable and care about their family and other people, but they often condemn and ostracize all those that believe differently than they do.
Many people, regardless of their religion, instinctively believe in the values of Asatru because they have been passed down to us from our ancestors. These values are part of our cultural and spiritual inheritance passed down through our family lines. So there is this tendency among those members of our Folk that have not yet returned to our native ways, to see what they want to see in these Middle-Eastern religions. Most people just haven’t yet realized that these major Abrahamic religions are saying, teaching, or practicing values that conflict with the values we know in our hearts are right. To find a religion that actually embraces and practices these native virtues, we should look to the religion that historically and instinctively instilled us with these values, our native Folkway, Heathenry.
These are the traits our ancestors valued in themselves and in others, and they provide guidance and something to strive for that will last your entire Heathen life. The more you instill your life with these virtues, the more you will stand out in a positive way, not only within Heathenry, but at home, at work, and within your community.
Mark Ludwig Stinson – Jotun’s Bane Kindred
Temple of Our Heathen Gods http://www.heathengods.com