Let me make this clear; I think the Nine Noble Virtues are pretty damn pointless.
I can understand the psychological appeal of a codified ethical list. Humans like what they can understand, and lists make complicated subjects look understandable. The problem here is that the moment you simplify an ethical question or process is the moment you’ve probably messed it up.
I’m not here to malign the Virtues just for a laugh; I take ethics very seriously, especially when it comes to codes of conduct and behavior. Even intelligent, well-written, and poignant ones can be the catalyst for actions of unbelievable horror. Even the serenity and contemplation of Buddhism was not immune to such madness. Imagine than what a poorly realized code of ethics can do in the hands of a faith that has no aversion (in theory at least) to physical conflict.
As much as that is a valid concern, it is not good enough to simply say what we should be afraid of; fear-mongering is among the worst of tools that may be implemented in debate. So, to showcase why the NNV truly have issues and problems at their core? I shall analyze and dissect them using one of the most revered tools within modern Heathenry; the Nine Noble Virtues. If they are truly an ethical code worthy of consideration, it should be easy for them to withstand their own scrutiny.
Spoilers: They don’t. Not even a little.
Courage: Dictionary.com defines courage as “the quality of mind or spirit that enables a person to face difficulty, danger, pain, etc. without fear; “. Things that cause difficulty, danger, and pain are typically things that are unknown; if they were something we had an understanding of, they’re ability cause us problems would be diminished. It’s easier to deal with things when their dangers are easily marked for us. Clearly than, the worst dangers are the ones with unknown factors. The Nine Noble Virtues are made to give ethical guidelines to Heathens, but the truly courageous Heathen is prepared to face their ethical quandaries without having an easy and convenient list.
True courage isn’t what you do when you have everything laid out before you; it’s what you do when the easier thing would be to run, either literally or metaphorically. As such, courage seems a bit out of place for us to include in a list such as this. Our ancestors were brave because they needed to be, not because they needed to be told to be.
Truth and Fidelity: My issue is that these are, practically, the same thing. Yes, I understand that one is talking about speaking nothing but truth, where the other states that we should not break our promises. If you are truly speaking the truth in the first place, your initial word was all that was needed. To speak only the truth is to never make a promise that isn’t intended to be kept. The redundancy at play here exposes just how ridiculous the NNV can be.
Why would you need redundancy in honesty? If we are truly wished to be forthright, we would only need to be told once. This bizarre need to express this same virtue in two different words displays some upsetting implications. Did the virtues need to be crafted with multiple reminders to remain honest because there was a fear that once wasn’t enough? Was it to satisfy the desire of the authors to have nine of them for some symbolic worship of Odin? If all of these upright upstanding Heathens are only dishonest via the influence of Loki, why do they all need two reminders to be honest?
Okay that was a little bit of sass on my part, but it’s still a pretty poignant question. Our ancestors and their cultures are referred to by history as honest and forthright. The Havamal repeatedly depicts honesty as being pretty binary; either you’re telling the truth or you are not. Our ancestors did not need to be told something twice so, if we wish to emulate their strengths, why would we accept a redundant code of ethics?
Industriousness and Self-Reliance: Do you wish to be self-reliant? Do you wish to make forward progress in your own life’s path? Good; than throw out the Nine Noble Virtues and make your own code of ethics.
Only two men can claim to follow the Nine Noble Virtues and be both industrious and self-reliant, and that’s because they made them.
Honor and Discipline: These two have a better run of the NNV than many of the others. They don’t score points for that, however, because they’re words that have a great deal of personalized meaning. To define honor is to, in a manner of speaking, define yourself. Further, what one man views as discipline is sloth to another; likewise, what one man views as discipline can be obsessive madness to his neighbor. These words, by their nature, mean what you attribute to them and nothing else.
They’re not part of the Nine Noble Virtues; they are a part of the human being that considers them and their place in their life. In truth, to blindly use another person’s definition of honor and discipline is to have an absence of both in yourself.
Hospitality: To be hospitable is to treat all who come in to your home in a dignified manner. Friends and strangers, by the standards of our ancestors, should both be treated with respect and dignity. My issue, in this case, is not with the virtue; it’s how so many selectively disregard it. I have seen plenty of Heathens retract offers of hospitality for banal or idiotic reasons. This says nothing of the elements of racism that sensible Heathens attempt to combat on a daily basis.
I’ve seen friendships discarded over momentarily lapses of frith. Is a mistake in frith good? Of course not, but frith is not an absolute; it’s a social contract. Mistakes only remain mistake if they’re left unrepaired. Yet, I see these mistakes being accepted as a perfectly acceptable reason to shun someone. I’ve seen philosophical and ideological arguments used as justifiable reasons to deny oaths of kinship. I’ve seen backhanded mockery, which disrespects both hosts and fellow guests.
Our homes and our message boards should both be filled with the very essence of a warm welcome and welcoming hearth. All too often, it seems that they are the exact opposite. The Havamal doesn’t provide too many exceptions for hospitality. Why do we?
Perseverance: To persevere is to not give up in the face of adversity. Much like truth and fidelity, perseverance feels like a redundancy; what can you say for perseverance that does not apply to courage and discipline as well? Why do I need a redundant reminder to have the strength to follow with what I believe is right? Either the writer’s thought they needed an extra reminder to stave off from weakness, or they were so dead set on having nine items that they were willing to use a thesaurus instead of their souls. One thing is certain; if they had truly had perseverance, they’d never have put down perseverance in the NNV.
Where is frith? Where is the reminder that we obliged to create harmony, whether as a guest or as a host? That hospitality is nothing without the social contract that fuels itself upon it?
Where is our religious faith? Many texts speak of the piety of the various cultures that made up the Norse worshiping people. The belief that our ancestors did not bow to the gods is situational at best and a complete modern fabrication at worst. Anecdotal records depict our ancestors as being devoted to their faith. Why do we not depict the same within our ethics constructs?
Where is the hunger for knowledge that Odin displayed? If we needed nine of these virtues in order to show reverence to the Allfather, why is there not the virtue He would surely place the greatest emphasis upon? Do you mean to tell me that we opted for three different words that meant standing your ground in the face of adversity, but we didn’t have room for ingenuity? For brilliance?
Where is the joy? Freya, Frey, Thor, and many other gods in our faith have been shown to be joyous entities. Yet, in spite of Their example, there is no happiness in these virtues; merely the grim detachment of a falsely assigned Jungian archetype.
For those who disagree with what I say, surely you must see that my words point to some troubling problems. Even if my arguments are struck down, there is so much of our faith that is missing.
For the record, I do know that I used the Odinic Rite’s version of the NNV and that the AFA has their own. Next time in Heathen Ethics, we’re going to be taking a look at the Asatru Folk Asembly’s version of the NNV. I’ll be walking through and see what they got right, and what they still managed to get wrong.