Heathen Ethics, Part 5: Modern Virtues

40231453The Nine Noble virtues definitely gave me a lot to think about.

I had a bit of a discussion with a historian about ethical systems after I talked about the NNV, and she put forward that ethical codes were mostly for the philosophically and morally lazy.  It’s definitely true that the OR’s was, but I couldn’t help but think that the AFA almost had touched on something amazing.  Further, there had been ethical codes and structures that had meaning before.  The thing is that no one sat under a tree and said “You know what I’m going to do?  I’m going to create a comprehensive ethical system!”.

Well, actually, someone probably did do just exactly that…and the end result was probably a spectacular failure.

A true crucible of ethics is a critical choice, made in less time than it takes to check your e-mail; when we only have time to act.  Telling someone the virtues and strength of courage isn’t a bad thing, but it does nothing to prepare that person for acting with courage.  In my mind, an ideal ethical system makes no choices for us but, rather, trains us so that we make make proper choices when we don’t have time to consider things.

A truly meaningful system isn’t a list of instructions, but an ethical compass the guides the person who considers it.  That compass doesn’t serve you well in isolation; you need a map, and the will to find your bearing.  You provide these things, and in turn the compass provides perspective on your surroundings.  The AFA’s version of the virtues almost did exactly that, and they did it by suggesting that one thing was greater than another.  Yes, it said, sometimes dogma is comforting and there maybe times where your choices should be made in strong consideration of it.  However, you shouldn’t select tradition at the cost of you real and present needs.  How do you define dogma, realism, pragmatism, and their value?  That’s for you, the individual, to decide.

So how do we craft something like that?  How can we create an ethical system for Heathenry that gives us something to chew on, rather than a watered down list?

Anthropological Sources Cannot Be The Primary Source for Material:  I realize that some people will look at that statement and feel like I’m denigrating our ancestors, or throwing away all of the lore in a heartbeat.  I’m not; I’m simply being realistic and considering a broader picture.  Our ancestors lived in an entirely different cultural climate.  Sometimes, the circumstances which made up their society was actively chosen.  At other times, it was made due to the prevailing conditions of society and environment.  Often, I think, it had little to do with what our ancestor did or did not want; it simply was the choice that worked.

Yes, societies were more closely connected back than.  They had to be; the nearest settlement might be two days time away, the winter was coming and lasted nearly half the year, and these crops weren’t going to harvest themselves.  Our ancestors had no choice but to pursue frith and honor grith, as well as harshly castigate those who didn’t, because doing otherwise would have been potentially fatal.  This doesn’t mean we should completely abandon these concepts, but it does mean we are somewhat obliged to figure out where and how they fit in a modern world.  I have Heathen friends, but my survival does not depend on them, and their does not depend on me.  The reasons any of us might pursue frith are unavoidably different that the reasons out ancestors did, and that drastically changes the forms our social ethics can and will take.

My ancestors also raided; every large, successful culture/kingdom/empire at that time did.  This wasn’t something that the Vikings owned, they were just particularly good at it.  Thing have changed here, too.  If I see my neighbors having a BBQ, and I don’t like my neighbors, using my lawn tools as weapons and than attacking them for their pork ribs does not mark me as a proud Viking warrior; it marks me as a dangerous psychotic with a rake.

Anthropological sources are great, but they simply cannot be the only lens we look through.  At the very least, we should also be looking at the cultures of Germany, Iceland, Norway, Switzerland and similar places.  While they may have been forced to abandon our Gods, their culture and history are both marked by the actions of their/our ancestors.  Do a little research into how Iceland recently changed it’s own government; the energy, vigor, and strength of our ancestors can be seen in modern times, should we be willing to look for it.

No Mystic Hang Ups: Odin sacrificed himself, to himself, for nine days.  This makes the number nine very symbolic in a mystical sense.  Here is my issue with that: ethics aren’t inherently mystical.  I’m not saying that ethical considerations and spiritual awareness don’t have some overlap, but we shouldn’t be constructing our moral guidelines in deference to symbolic observance merely for the sake of a self-imposed obligation.

If we believe the Gods are Gods, than we believe them to have enough power to influence the process as needed.  If we missed something or added something that did not have a proper place, we can count on the grinding gears of time and the hand of the divine to apply sandpaper and putty wherever it is needed.  The symbolism will take care of itself.

Nothing Included That Speaks to Politics and/or Racism, One Way or the Other:  Yes, that means our ethical system(s) shouldn’t address the various flavors of Nazitru, Hyper-Folkishness, and bigotry that had come up within the Heathen spectrum of faiths in any sort of overt way.  You have no idea how much it irritates me to say that; my Grandfather served in World War II in the US Army.  His unit helped capture concentration camps, and his own actions earned him the silver star.  Nazis in my religion?  That burns me like the heat of a thousand angry suns.

PPar_WightsThat being said, I see no reason in trying to get into some infantile pissing contest with people who never decided to look up the actual etymology of the word “wight”.  Calling them out not only initiates a pointless argument with unreasonable people, it only validates their viewpoint simply by mentioning it.  I’m not trying to entrench the arguement further, and harsh words just gives them something else to fight against.  So no, no special “racism is duper dumb” virtue.  Or, to put it another way, putting a clause in about racism suggests that we had to remind ourselves to not be bigots.

On a related not, we should have nothing that suggests favoritism or insults to the Asatru Folk Assembly, The Troth, The Odinic Rite, Forn Siðr, Asatru, Vanatru, Rokkatru, butchers, bakers, candlestick makers, or anyone else.

When was the last time you saw “group politics” and “ethics” get along in any way, shape, or form?  I know I’ve never seen it work it out, and I don’t suspect I’m alone in this.  This is a code for you; not a list of restrictions for them.

In the end, I think it’s less important come up with a sound and workable code than it is to simply consider one.   If you do feel you need one, these are the rules I’d go by.


6 thoughts on “Heathen Ethics, Part 5: Modern Virtues

  1. Elizabeth says:

    Some of the more sensible things I’ve heard said about ethics.

  2. […] while back, I presented a few guidelines that I thought any proper Heathen code would have to follow in order to achieve a state of […]

  3. EmberVoices says:

    > So no, no special “racism is duper dumb” virtue.

    Hmm, I’m not sure if I agree or not. It depends on whether bigotry (perhaps as a form of hubris) *in general* is addressed. The need to treat all people, not just one’s chosen kin, with basic respect isn’t just a political statement, after all. The fact that it ends up a political discussion when people fail to do so doesn’t make the reminder misplaced in an ethics conversation.

    > On a related not, we should have nothing that suggests favoritism or insults to the Asatru Folk Assembly, The Troth, The Odinic Rite, Forn Siðr, Asatru, Vanatru, Rokkatru, butchers, bakers, candlestick makers, or anyone else.

    Hee! Well put.


    • A large part of me being against a “racism is super dumb” virtue is the politics at hand; I also think it’s sort of a waste. Either they were going to be a bigot or they weren’t. If those bigots out there are capable of having their viewpoints shifted, I don’t think a list of virtues is going to do it.

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