Heathen Ethics, Part 9: Accountability

Talking about how things went down at HUAR, as well as how things are going forward with HfSJ, made me reflective about something that’s a cornerstone of Heathen ethics, but rarely gets brought up as such.   You see, there are many important keystones in Heathen ethics, and many of us have a great degree of familiarity with a vast assortment of them; we know about how upholding your word is important, how one needs to have a strong understanding of honor, “we are our deeds”, and so forth.

Critical to these, however, is accountability; the ability to be responsible to and for the consequences of your actions.

That it’s rarely talked about in Heathen circles is rather bizarre, because it ends up being the philosophical cement that holds many of our other ethical bricks together.  It’s within the sentiment behind the “Cattle Die, Kinsmen Die” stanza, because how well can our triumphs be remember after our death if we couldn’t also take responsibility for our mistakes in life?  It drips from the “Lay of Loddfafnir”*, for every piece of advice that directly speaks to consequence is indirectly speaking about accountability as well.  It can be found in the margins of the Nine Noble Virtues (both versions), the Nine Charges, the Six Fold Goal, and in the Ten Guiding Tempers that I wrote myself.

Of course, one way to not need to have to account for yourself is to not be a jackass in the first place.

Of course, one way to not need to have to account for yourself is to not be a jackass in the first place.

Did I intend it to be there?  Honestly, no…but that’s sort of a demonstration of how fundamental it is; an ethical perspective which does not, by accident or design, consider accounting for one’s self simply cannot function.  At such a point, it can no longer even be considered ethics; it’s just long-winded braggadocio with a pretension towards moralizing.

Now, accountability is one of those things that’s pretty easy to explain, but understanding it isn’t the problem or how it’s determined; it’s having the strength of character to act upon it that’s key.  In many ways it is the shadow that is cast by the light of honor, and it is just as ineffable as it’s counterpart.  Perhaps more so: while it can be hard to figure out the right action is in a given situation, figuring out how to repair things after you’ve already messed up can feel absolutely impossible.

Surprisingly, accountability can be hard for us, as Heathens, to deal with.  While we have strong, ethical obligations in matters regarding honor and frith, we also regard the recognition of an individual and their accomplishments as a healthy thing.  Additionally, many of us have an excessive amount of Christian baggage, which can lead to some very dour ideas about how shame interacts with consequence.  All of this is to the side of simple lapses in judgement, and incorrect assumptions about who or what is to blame.

Regardless of what gets in the way, however, there are times where the onus will be on us to make amends for the actions we have taken.  It’s about as certain as death and taxes.

Accountability is, by it’s nature, a personal thing, and how each person goes about it needs to be something they determine for themselves.  The only thing that I will say I feel is ironclad, from a Heathen perspective, is that accountability cannot be practiced exclusively towards other Heathens.  If one gives only Heathens the respect afforded by accountability, then we are not truly accounting for ourselves; we are accounting for the perceptions of others and making sure our little club stays well attended to.  It becomes a situation devoid of meaningful morality, turning instead into a game of perception and public relations.

That’s not laying the foundation for good ethics, and it’s certain not honorable.

Again, this is a personal thing; it is up to each individual person, Heathen or otherwise, to decide how they account for themselves in social situations.**

*Stanzas 111 to 137 of the Havamal.
**I’m intending to revisit this topic again later; for the moment, I’m putting this out there in the hope of encouraging discussion.


Heathen Ethics, Part 8: Your Ancestors, My Ancestors

beautiful-tree-photography20--photographs-of-pleasing-trees-photography-heat---photography-w7gusmcpAn idea struck me earlier today, and ever since that moment it has been struggling to eat it’s way out of my brain.  So, let’s get it out so we can look it!

While those who embrace Folkism and those who reject Folkism disagree on a lot of things, there are a handful of things that both schools of thought agree on.  One of them is the importance of ancestry and one’s own ancestors.  It forms a philosophical backbone for just about every flavor of Heathenry, and even the most pro-synchretic, non-Folkish Norse Polytheist in the world is going to look at a Heathen cross-eyed if they declare ancestor veneration/worship to be optional or (even worse) irrelevant.  It’s one of the most primal conceits of our faith, regardless of denomination, and it’s importance cannot be overstated.

It is not as widely acknowledged, but certainly not thought of as contentious, that all people should learn about, embrace, and venerate their ancestral roots regardless of whether those people are Heathen or not.  Ancestry is sacred, and not just when one is Heathen.  While there are those who feel that a lack of Germanic, Icelandic, Scandinavian, and/or Norwegian ancestry bars one from making a meaningful spiritual connection to the worship practices and Gods of those cultures, only those who truly count themselves as racist would malign the ancestry of another.

And now I get to the original idea that has persisted all day; if the above is true, wouldn’t it follow that racial slurs of any kind are the worst sort of speech that a true Heathen may utter?  This is not simply some permutation of a so-called “political correct agenda”*; this is an idea born of serious consideration and thought

To insult, malign, or demean the ancestry of another is to insult every father and mother within their line.  It is to castigate there ancestry by it’s nature and by no other standard than it’s mere existence.  It is showing contempt for a person’s heritage that to suggest, regardless of ancestral deeds or merit, that it is lesser just for not being your own.  That’s the closest thing to Heathen blasphemy that I can conceive of.

Each person’s ancestry is something sacred.  Which is a pretty amazing thing; each of us have the sacredness of our own family line.  No matter how weak or sickly the most recent branches of our tree may have become, there is a point where it pulls back into a mighty and stout root that reaches back further than recorded history can fathom.  To spread bile towards the the ancestry of another, even in passing, is to stain one’s own sacredness.   Imagine how hard it would be for an outsider, looking upon your words and deeds, to truly believe in the hollowedness you purport to hold ancestry within when another’s can be casually and callously dismissed.  Also, think what it must say of your own assessment of your ancestors if you need to malign those of another person; if you truly think you ancestry is great, you need never speak ill of the roots of another.

Ancestry, if sacred, is always sacred.  When it’s my ancestors.  Your ancestors.  Their ancestors.  Anyone’s ancestors.  Everyone’s ancestors.

In so many mystical traditions, we affirm that words have power.  If so, remember the words you say of another; they reflect more of you than of the other.

*I do have an agenda, mind you.  It’s just that it’s “Drink coffee”, “Don’t Run out of Coffee”, and “Anyone who hurts my family should be missing ribs and/or spleens”.

EDIT 3/25/2014: I have a bad habit of leaving questions in my essays where they don’t really fit most of the time.  At the suggestion of my wife(my better half by far), I’ve polished those sentences so they read more clearly and easily.  The meaning is the same; it just reads and flows a bit easier.

Heathen Ethics, Part 7: The Ten Guiding Tempers

Quite some time ago, I talked about my issues with the Nine Noble Virtues.  I had a lot of issues with them too, but that wasn’t because I was against the existence of an ethical code; I was against how the NNV was established and the role it fulfills in Heathenry today.  It was created using the Havamal as the penultimate ethical source that it never was intended to be, and it was presented as the wisdom of our ancestors when our ancestors never head heard of it.  The collected wisdom and ethical thew of our spiritual fore-bearers, reduced down to a handful of words chosen by their superficial connection to a few pieces of good advice that existed in a document that is presented as the Tao of the Norse without a single quantifying statement.*

i1232892707_1A 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 practical viability.  After letting the ideas and concepts simmer for half a year,** I decided it was time to try to see what I could come up with.  I took all the material from both versions of the Nine Noble Virtues, referenced the Six-Fold Goal of the Troth***, and then separated the grain from the chaff.  I kept things informed by the manners and thew of  our spiritual ancestors, while giving them the room to breathe in modern air.  They weren’t chosen based on observance of barely relevant numerology; it’s just what felt right and it was what worked for what I was attempting to create.  No hard biases against or for any organization, philosophy, or personally relevant spirituality.  Just a code that I think will serve Heathens well.

Those were my goals at least; I can’t say whether they’ve been achieved or not.  That’s up to, well,  everyone else.

These are the ten guiding tempers, intended as guidelines for living a Heathen life that will give you an enduring name, worthwhile deeds, and a satisfying life.  The first nine are concepts and ideals that should rule your thoughts, as well as the concept or idea that you should balance it  against.  No virtue, as an absolute, will ever yield good results.  Thus each virtues is viewed through the lens of another one that helps to guide and define it.

The tenth temper is a special one, but it is also very important.  If these guidelines do not serve you well, follow the tenth temper and you’ll end up with the results you deserve.

This is not Heathen Bushido.  This is not the legacy of our spiritual ancestors.  All it represents is good advice, as seen by one Heathen, and given to any other Heathen who chooses to use it.

Courage tempers Faith: If our way does not maintain its faith, it will not endure.  If we have faith in our Gods and our communities, we will be strong.  There are times, however, when our Gods will test us and our communities are not at hand.  There will be times in the life of every Heathen when they must handle an issue greater than themselves, and where no amount of aide on physical, spiritual, and social fronts will take care of things.  Faith is your belief within things outside of yourself; courage is the faith your own heart and soul have for their own capacity.  Without courage, faith becomes weak and dependent.

Freedom tempers Courage: If our way does not maintain its courage, it will not endure.  Courage gives us the strength to face any difficulty, regards of the risks.  We are not bound, however, to face every difficulty or our lives would become a meaningless transition from struggle to struggle. Without freedom, we would be forever locked with a constant cycle of conflict without respite to enjoy the spoils of those struggles.  We have the freedom to choose the purposes to which we devote ourselves and a mandate to preserve that freedom for ourselves and our community.  Without freedom, courage leads to exhaustion and lifelessness.

Discipline tempers Freedom: If our way does not maintain its freedom, it will not endure.  The choices we make for ourselves, our families, and our communities must be choices made with agency and purpose.  While freedom is important to any Heathen, freedom unchecked by our own willpower can lead to a life without triumphs, deeds of merit, and a completely self-serving attitude.  We need discipline, control of ourselves and actions, for our freedoms to be truly meaningful things.  Without discipline, freedom leads to a lack of focus and action.

Frith tempers DisciplineIf our way does not maintain its discipline, it will not endure.  When we establish self-control, we are the master of ourselves.  Yet, our perspectives alone should never shape all of the circumstances within our lives.  If we focus to much on self-control, we can easily loose perspectives on all things are not connected to the self.  Without acknowledging our responsibilities to our communities, so much of what we do can quickly become meaningless.  Our discipline should be just as much shaped by our desire for goodwill and community as it should by our own willpower.  Without frith, discipline becomes stagnant and selfish.

Wisdom tempers FrithIf our way does not maintain its Frith, it will not endure.  The well being of our community was of central importance to our spiritual ancestors, but those communities needed more than just goodwill to survive.  The frith they built was also guided by intelligence, experience and wisdom.  Further, our societies and communities are not constructed from and limited by geographical restrictions; who we build Frith with is now completely a choice.  This changes much, and alters entire social models in the blink of an eye.  Now the entire world is at our fingertips, connect societies and communities as never before.  While this allows us to teach and learn as never before, it also gives those who speak with ignorance and greed a louder voice as well.  Now words of wisdom and intelligence are more power and meaningful than ever, for they both guide our communities as well as shape them.  Our choices must ever be guided by sound thoughts and firm understanding.  Without wisdom, frith dilutes and is quickly usurped.

Honesty tempers Wisdom: If our way does not maintain its wisdom, it will not endure.  If a Heathen is asked for their council, they should their true thoughts or none at all.  Without honesty, the sage and correct choices are harder to find and communities become easily led to infighting and ruin.     Without honesty, any piece of wisdom can be a lie and thus the nature of wisdom itself is compromised.  With but a single lie, a lifetime of advice can be render contaminated and suspect.  Without honesty, wisdom becomes foul and poisoned.

Warmth tempers HonestyIf our way does not maintain its honesty, it will not endure.  Honesty is the lifeblood of an honorable life.  Yet, without a hospitable bearing, the blood turn weak and this.  If those who are our guest are given every truth we can think of without request or consideration?  We abuse the privileges of a proper host.  Should we release our words without thought within the house of another?  We abuse the respect and consideration afforded to a guest.  While we should never lie to our quests or to our hosts, we should also respect them all the same and leave their private lives to their own device.  Warmth is a combination of many ideas: hospitality, manners, grith, and more.  All of these things have subtle differences, but they all fly under of being a good person to the souls who we trust to be honest towards and our spiritual ancestors did not grant their warmth strictly to those who were the same as they.  Without warmth, honesty turns to bitterness and callousness.

Pragmatism tempers Warmth: If our way does not maintain its warmth, it will not endure.  Our spiritual ancestors welcomed strangers, yet they were not foolish.  Those who would and have threatened them are not welcome.  They do not give more than they can afford to give, for their first loyalty is to their families.  A good Heathen is one who plans ahead.  They have prepared for the next winter before the previous one has ended, and they plan for the next harvest in the way they gather the present one.  They endure not only by their resilience of body, but also from their resilience of mind.  Long before the fight started, whether it be against robbers of weather, our spiritual ancestors prepared themselves as best they could for it.  They secured their capacity for hospitality and mindfulness with actions and plans.  Without pragmatism, warmth cannot be maintained or established.

Faith tempers Pragmatism: If our way does not maintain its pragmatism, it will not endure.  We must be ready for the unexpected and aware of the known, but we must also leave room for those things for our heart and soul.  We venerate and worship mighty Gods and Goddesses, whose capacity and influence is far greater than the legends alone would tell us.  To loose sight of that is to loose sight of those who help us, guide us, and watch over us.  We must trust those who have built good frith and warmth with us.  To loose sight of this is to loose sight of all that a community can offer.  There will be times were no amount of logic and common sense will see us through.  In these cases, we must trust our luck, our communities, and our Gods to get us through.  Without faith, pragmatism becomes bland and paranoid.

The Tenth Temper – Deeds temper Ethics:   If our way does not consider ethics, it will not endure.  Yet this is but one interpretation of the ethics of our spiritual ancestors.  If you are not satisfied with the deeds that results from the tempers?  Than change them.  Alter them.  Break them over your knee with a sickening crunch so loud that it turns the Allfather’s head.  Make them yours.  Cast them aside, and live your life by your instincts.  Your deeds are your own, and no moralistic code can ever take responsibility for them.  Never lets yourself become so dogmatic and fixated that you fail to hold your ethical beliefs up to the same standard you hold yourself up to.  Without mindfulness of our deeds and their consequences, ethics will always fail.

*While I don’t oppose the Havamal, I certain oppose how it is used by many Heathens.  The Havamal is, at best, a modestly functional compass for making educated guess about the ethical viewpoints of out spiritual ancestors.  I’ll never suggest throwing it out because it certainly has it’s uses, and one can gain some insight by considering its words.  It is not the Heathen Bible, but it still gets used as such; in function if not in name. 

**Wait, how long have I been doing this?  Yeesh.

*** I consider it somewhere between two version of the Nine Noble Virtues in terms of quality.  It’s well intentioned, and serves well as some sort of ethic infused mission statement.  It still suffers from almost all of the same problems however, and thus I didn’t think it needed a whole lot of narration to cover the pros and cons.

Heathen Ethics, Part 6: Taking it Back

The funny thing about how I write is that I frequently find new projects in the middle of work I’m still trying to finish.  I imagine I’m not alone in this, but it’s always a pleasant surprise when I try to tackle something and find an excess of material hiding there.  It gives me a warm, fuzzy feeling when I search for one thing and end up finding a dozen other things hiding in the darker recesses.   It makes me feel like an explorer.

Let’s talk about the singularly, nearly uncontested linchpin of Norse Polytheistic ethics; “We Are Our Deeds”


Whomever created the “Tru Asapope” meme at Memecruncher.com? I salute you. I would have gone there myself, save for my complete inability to use “Photoshop”

I was researching where the phrase came from (I still don’t conclusively know) when I encountered an extremely acidic (though deservedly so) rundown of the phrase over at Adventures in Vanaheim.  The post in question had a lot of fire, and the author of the work definitely has some poignant things to say on the matter.  I’ve seen some of the same behaviors, and I regard them no more kindly than she does.  The phrase can and does mean a variety of things, but one of the meanings that everyone agrees with is “actions speak louder than words.  The problem is that people often use the philosophies involved to allow for a theological backdoor.

You see, this is where I get extremely amused/upset at some of the more conservative sides of Norse Polytheism.  There are people who will absolutely malign anything perceived as Christian.  They do it with no shortage of conviction or passion, either.  Peace, hospitality to people outside your Innangard, any political policy that has the semblance of charity…all of it is cast quickly on to the bonfire as the relic of another faith.  Than these same people will use “We Are Our Deeds” the way poorly acting Christians use “What Would Jesus Do”; as a means of using their religion as a weapon and a barrier

Olaus Magnus Historia om de nordiska folken

“Two rangers, a fighter, and a wizard?  Awwww yeah!  Our DPS is gonna be off the charts!”

They see something they don’t appreciate, look for a way to spin such an action into a parallel of some faux pas, cherry pick a reference within their literature or lore that superficially validates their outrageous condemnation, and than feel theologically justified in acting like judgmental assholes.  It’s absolutely flabbergasting.

As much as it would enjoyable to continue to comically compare WWJD to WAOD, That’s the low road.  My wife has had a lot to say to me about my writing as of late; she’s been pointing out how angry and contentious Heathenry is within it’s own body, and that’s it sad state of affairs when a religion seems to exist simply because all the people involved get angry at the same things.  How much do we talk about those we cannot stand, and how often do we embrace the things about Heathenry/Asatru/Norse Polytheism which we actually like?  If reflection upon that doesn’t bother you, you may be part of the problem.

Another reason I’m not going there is, of all things, The Oatmeal.  In his strip that focused on Genocidal Bastard Columbus Day,  he pointed out how easy it is to rip something apart…and how much more difficult and rewarding it is to find something worth holding up.  As easy as it would be to simply tear into those who misappropriate “We Are Our Deeds” to justify their own petty intolerance, it’s more appropriate to try and turn the same phrase into something that has the meaning it truly deserves.  It’s also probably a lot less hypocritical, while I’m thinking about it.

Which brings up to “We Are Our Deeds” itself.  What does it say of me if the best thing I can do is just be a more tactful form of critical and brash?  Criticism is needed, and it’s a powerful tool.  There is, however, a very apt saying about what happens when all you have is a hammer….

First and foremost it’s not about holding others accountable to us, but in holding ourselves accountable to the world.  Our actions are going to be our best spokespeople and/or our harshest critics, and that’s exactly how it should be.  We should see it as a tool for self reflection first and foremost, as there is no shortage of such a viewpoint within the lore.  Let us consider the countless entries in the Havamal* which talk about watching your own conduct carefully, and letting the conduct of strangers speak for themselves.  Be certain that you have used it on yourself far more than you ever use it on another.  If you come off looking awesome 100% of the time in your own estimation, than you’re doing it wrong; no one is perfect, not even our Gods and Goddesses.

i-brought-organic-mead-its-a-jar-of-angry-beesIt’s also a great way to compliment other; if someone is busting their butt doing tons of work yet still pushing themselves to do more, you can remind them that their dedication already has provided more than the fruits of their labor ever can.  It also reminds us that our criticism shouldn’t be tied to gossip, first impressions, or mere hunches; all criticism should be crafted from the actions of that person, as anything else is just pointing to a shadow or a phantasm.

If we are tired of hearing that phrase misused(and we should be), the solution is not to simply discard it; I believe we should challenge ourselves to use it appropriately.  The ethics it represents are solid, and resonate quite strongly with the morality that is found within the lore as well as in the cultures that crafted such tales.   More over, there is a wonderfully simple logic to it; I am no more or less than what I have done, so judge me by that and that alone.  There is pragmatic brilliance within that sentiment.

I’m not saying that the tool is completely unfit for analyzing others either; it’s just not how you should be using it more often than not.  There are times, however, where it is fair to use a person’s behavior to get an understanding of their worth. That makes sense.  What doesn’t hold water is when the same philosophical engine is used to pass judgement over a person in connection to a single action or behavior (Loki worship, Syncretism, having no problem with Wiccan praxis, wearing that hat with those shoes, etc) that doesn’t impact anyone but that person.  That’s not on them; it’s on you.

There are people who use ethical and philosophical outs when it comes to ethical and religious considerations.  There always has been, and there always will be.  You can’t prevent it.  All you can do is determine how you deal with it and, in this case, I feel the best thing we can do is use this simple but powerful tool to the best of our abilities.  Use it to challenge ourselves, and be better people.  In short, we can simply be our deeds…and let other, less informed, less enlightened people be theirs.

*Yes, yes…I know…I’m usually the last one to refer to the Havamal or the lore.  I don’t have a problem with it, however; just in how some people use such works.  For example, when the Havamal is used to inform ethical considerations and thew, rather than create entire ethical codes from scratch, it’s actually a wonderful resource. 

Please take a moment to stop by my Patreon campaign, and consider helping me out with a little bit of financial support.  Stay tuned, as there are some big announcements in the works!

Heathen Ethics, Part 5: Forgiveness and Heathenry (A Response)

Ironically, it worked long enough to create this meme...

Ironically, it worked long enough to create this meme…

So…this.  For those who just don’t feel like reading a blog entry to make sense of another blog entry, here is the lowdown; a Troth Steward posted his thoughts above forgiveness, on the Troth’s official blog..  Let me tell you, I found the entire article pretty depressing in how badly it missed the mark.  Let’s take a look at what I consider the “business” paragraph of the article.

“Heathens do not forgive, for to ask you to forgive me for what I have done to you cheapens the victories you have fought long and hard to win in rebuilding what my actions have destroyed.  In asking for your forgiveness, I am now taking from you your right to rage, your right to the fires of anger to balance the loss, pain, fear, or despair that accompanied whatever effect the wrong I committed cost you.  Further; the implication is that if you refuse to grant this to me, or continue to resent me, the person who wronged you is now morally superior as you can’t forgive them.”
-John T. Mainer, Troth Steward (July 27th, 2013)

Earlier on, he states that “Forgiveness isn’t Heathen.” and that we “don’t do sin, karma, or forgiveness.”  Honestly, the man really has denigrated his point, as two of those words were definitely concepts within any iteration of a Heathen worldview.  He’s very accurate in regards to karma, but the word sin actually has it’s roots in the German, Old Norse, Middle English, and Old English languages…so it’s definitely a concept that old world Heathenry had a handle on.  I’ll throw Mr. Mainer this one, however, as that’s a pretty semantic argument; the Norse view of sin would likely not be the same as the Christian view of sin, and I’m not going to pretend it’s otherwise.   My issue is that, for an article that takes itself very seriously as it tries to speak upon an important issue, it’s an obvious flaw.

“Heathens do not forgive” doesn’t make sense.  He is, broadly correct when he says that forgiveness isn’t a Heathen concept.  It’s also not a Christian, Hebrew, Islamic, Buddhist, Taoist, Zoroastrian, Hindu, Wiccan, or a Pastarfarian concept.  It’s a universal concept, taking shape as a mechanism within any number of cultures and societies.  Our faith possesses no automatic mandate to oppose forgiveness as an idea, just because Jesus Christ had an awfully lot to say about the subject.

On that subject, Mr. Mainer doesn’t bring up the Abrahamic religion that most people associate with forgiveness in his piece and that is to his credit.  Instead of turning it into a smear piece aimed at the Christian faith, he discusses the path that he feels Heathens should take.  While I have a lot of issues with Mr. Mainer’s article, he does a damn good job of taking the high road in his writing.  Heathenism was not crafted to be bizarro Christianity; it was crafted to be Heathenry, and nothing else.  Every time we define it by what we feel it is not or construct an argument that accepts the Christian worldview as an automatic conceit , we’re talking about another faith more that we speak upon our own.  That does not send a very good message about our own faith.  As much as I dislike his stance, Mainer’s discourse get a couple of major things right.

I get to disagree with him about the Heathen faith, instead of where our faith differs from Christianity.  At the end of the day, I think we all feel better when this is the shape our discourse takes.   Or, to put it another way, if I’m praying to Thor I’m not doing to so to spite Jesus.  With some Heathens, I’m not so sure if they understand that.

He also does a good job at writing some stirring, positive ways of expressing his point towards the second half of the article.  I can’t pretend that only the second half exists, however, and I think it sets a very troubling precedent.

BoR_KvasirTo that end, if we are our deeds (something Mr. Mainer speaks upon near the beginning of his article) than we need not worry about anyone’s presumption in regards to moral high ground.  If person X did not give you reason to accept an apology, then there is no moral imperative to concern yourself with.  I have every right to make an assessment of how you conduct yourself in such situation, however.  If you refuse someone’s apology for a transgression that had little to no effect upon your long term well being?  I can view that as petty, should I so wish.  Likewise, I may think that someone let another off to easily by accepting an apology too earlier.  If ‘we are our deeds” is the cornerstone of our self conduct?  Than the matter is extremely simple.

Yes, moral superiority is a malignant tumor that does exist within some denominations of some religions but presenting it as an anathema to Heathen thought makes no sense.  Forgiveness is not a Christian invention that Jesus had gained the patent for.   It’s more defined by one’s culture, with religion often weighing in on certain aspects of it within that culture.  On that note, our religion doesn’t really speak much about it, so forgiveness is each person’s to define.  Much like the  separation of church and state (Matthew 22:21, punks), slavery, and heroic figures returning from death, forgiveness is a concept that Christianity has talked about, but does not own.

yggdrasilMr. Mainer’s sentiments do not reflect anything I’ve seen within the Heathen lore or worldview.  If one feels a psychological compunction to forgive someone, based on a fear that you will be ethically subjugated if you do not do so, that’s your baggage.  It has nothing to do with how any of us need to practice or act upon our faith.  If I don’t accept an apology, it’s because either I don’t think the person is sorry or because I’m not ready for that.  I have no need to feel guilt for it, so I don’t; if I have been wronged, I get to determine the way I heal and I’m not going to self-flagellate because it makes my transgressor feel super sad about things.  If I’m angry, I allow myself to be angry until I decide I do not want to be angry any more.  Anyone who feels it acceptable to guilt trip me in the interim displays their own ethical weakness.

Forgiveness is not a right in Heathenry; it is something earned via owning up to your failings and offering recompense for them.  Sometimes that recompense is material, but more often the most meaningful sacrifices are the ones we make from our pride and arrogance.  We can accept the responsibility or our wrong doing, fix it as best as we are able, and do all of it with the firm awareness that there is no demand our apology be accepted.  Our quest for forgiveness carried more weight than, as does the acceptance of the apology.

How forgiveness works is for each of us to define.  Each of us has our own mandate to decide what it means, and how it should be gained.  There is no authority that is legion here but our own.  I do not think we should throw away forgiveness, when it affords us ways to define ourselves and the way we view the world.

Edit: (9/9/2013) Modified slightly for clarity.

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.

Heathen Ethics, Part 4: Social Consequence

Oh god....who put Vril in my Legos?

Oh Gods….who put Vril in my Legos?

I have had this article in the making for years now, though I only committed to writing it very recently.  Finding the right words to express my feelings was incredibly difficult, and it took an even longer time to figure out what my feelings even were in the first place.

Disagreements and conflict are inevitable in any religion, and Heathenry is no exception.  Sometimes, these catalytic offenses are some sort of unacceptable behavior or action.  At other times, the issue is that someone had the shamelessness to call someone else Heathen when that person has the lack of respect to have melanin in their skin. *  Regardless of how reasonable or idiotic the issues are, it seems that most people believe that the go to reaction is to pronounce some sort of social boycott.  The lengths to which this boycott should go vary greatly between groups, but it is typically as the defining method by which Heathens seem to enforce social consequence.

It’s also bloody fucking stupid. **

The Heathen faith is small; tiny, honestly.  We are also a religion with a certain amount of attachment to social structure.  This leads to tightly-knit, and heavily inter woven group of people.  Simply put, any sort of shunning of any sort throws this dynamic into chaos and damages everyone involved.  I have seen three different arguments occur that I would classify as major enough to warrant discussion.  In two of them, I was a close observer.  One of them I was an unfortunate participant.

In the two cases that didn’t involve my person, I saw a variety of ‘consequences’ enacted by one side against the other.  In both cases I saw more damage come from this social boycott than I ever saw come from the catalyst itself, and befell the observers just as much as it did the “guilty” .  People weren’t able to invite both parties to the same event without causing more drama.  These actions brought third parties into an argument  that they did not belong in, and that they didn’t want to be a part of.

Our entire community weakened, and for what?  So an individual or small group could feel better about themselves.  Madness.  I am to understand that there are people that mock “Internet Heathenry”, saying that online interactions could never carry the weight of real life actions.  Anyone who says this with room for exceptions or irony really ought to get out more; things look pretty similar to me.

If you are willing to weaken the entire strength of a community for the sake of your own ego?  You shouldn’t belong to a community.  You can be Heathen, Asatru, or whatever; these aren’t terms that any one person gets to bestow upon or remove from another person.  A community, however, requires a certain amount of sacrifice for the greater good.  We are part of a proud faith, that champions accomplishment…but without some consideration for our brothers and sisters?  There is no community.  As soon as your pampered little ego matters more than the greater good?  You disrespect every Heathen you know, and every Heathen they know in turn.

My falling out with a friend was bitter, harsh, and filled with unkind words.  It is highly probably that the two of us will never speak again on friendly terms, if we ever speak to each other at all.  Yet, I still speak to this person’s husband.  We speak often, and we speak freely.  Our respective families don’t attend the same social gatherings by coincidence, not be prearrangement.  If we were to attend the same function, I can honestly say I expect that we’d both put on our big boy pants, and act like civilized adults.

Religious Peace

If these two can get along on my tumblr, what’s your excuse?

There is no use for a social boycott here; all it would do is drag our mutual friends into the crossfire and show both of both as petty and foolish.  Those who are my friends aren’t thought of as lesser or disloyal for sharing frith with her, and I am to understand the same basic courtesy is extended in return.  We can’t stand each other, but that is both where it begins and ends; our disagreement is not something that community as a whole needs to be involved with.  In does not even so much as extended to our spouses.  That is a good and noble thing, and that is how it should work.

The only difference between our argument and those I have seen?  Neither person forced everyone to choose a side.  Both of us, individually, decided that our egos were less important than our friends and our faith.  I am angry at my former friend.  I am hurt beyond words, and it took me months to get to a point where I could refer to her in anything but anger.  I’ll say this, however; in one action, she showed more frith and concern for consequence than I’ve seen displayed by entire kindreds. **

I’m not saying there is no reason to shun someone; if someone tried to assault my wife and/or stepdaughter, steal from us on a scale that prevents us from feeding ourselves, or something similar?  Yes, they’re getting shunned…and than I’m calling the authorities.  However, I am firmly of the opinion that a majority of such social boycotts are idiotic, ego feeding power trips, designed only to heighten one person’s perception of their own awesomeness.

If you couldn’t file a police report about it?  Chances are you are being a cry baby, and you need to get over yourself.

Author’s Notes
* This is sarcasm.
** This is not sarcasm.