One of the basic functions of a religion is to offer a set of values on which mankind is to base it's actions. This, sadly, is one area where Paganism has often failed. The cult of anti-values has held sway, taking moral relativism to extremes perhaps even farther from common sense than fundamentalist moral legalism, even to the point where I have heard rape, murder, and genocide defended on the basis of "cultural differences."
However, values remain important. All one needs to do is look at the morning paper to see the results of a society that has in many ways embraced the cult of anti-values. We should be experiencing an evolution from a legalistic moral/religious culture to one of flexible honor based values and self-responsibility. All too often, what we have instead is a morass of chaos and immorality. The lesson we should all learn is that while there is no definitive list of sins; right and wrong still exist.
As usual Asatru offers a sensible solution. Our faith deals not in legalisms and rules nor in unchecked chaos and relativism. We instead acknowledge the existence of right and wrong, good and evil, but we deal with actions according to basic philosophical concepts that are applied by the keen intellect of Odin, the simple common sense of Thor, and the solid honor of Tyr--the gifts of the Gods to us.
Asatru posits that the basic place of moral judgment is within the human heart and mind. We as human beings with the gift of intelligence are sensible and responsible enough to determine right from wrong and act accordingly. The Gods teach us through the examples of their lives, as chronicled in the Eddas, and through various pieces such as the Havamal which directly offer us advice. In the modern history of our faith, various Asatru organizations have outlined simple sets of values which they hold up as simple guidelines on how to live ones life.
Of all of the sets of values we saw when first starting out, those of the Odinic Rite struck us as the most cohesive and sensible. This set has been adopted by the Raven Kindred as an "official" statement of our beliefs. We do this not only as a moral guide for our members, but also to say to the world what it is that we stand for--our good name in the community being important to us. Finally, this list is used when someone formally joins the Raven Kindred and we hold a sumble and toast the 9 virtues to the new member in the hope that they will apply them to their life.
The Nine Noble Virtues are
In virtually every statement of values applied to Asatru, Courage is listed first. Few of us face such turmoil as a literal battle for ones life. In fact, I believe it might be easier to manifest courage in such a situation than to do so in the many smaller day to day occurrences in which courage is called for.
The most common of these occurrences for modern Pagans, is the courage to acknowledge and live ones beliefs. It is also, sadly, the one that we most often fail at. While we may often be full of the type of courage that would lead us to face a shield wall, many of us quake at the thought of the topic of religion coming up at the office or a friend asking what church we attend. We won't offer easy answers, but we ask this: if you toast the courage of your ancestors to fight and die for what they believed in, can you trade away your religious identity for a higher salary or social acceptance?
In an essay on values there is also the question of moral courage. The way of Tyr is difficult--to lose ones hand for ones beliefs--but, Tyr thought the price worth paying. In a million ways modern society challenges our values, not just as Asatruar who are estranged from mainstream religious practice, but for religious people in an increasingly not just secular, but anti-religious culture. Values are also not in favor in modern society. Breaking or getting around the rules is encouraged to get ahead. Living honorably is simply too inconvenient. I think most people, Asatru or otherwise, find this repugnant, but the only way to change it is to have the courage to refuse to take part in it.
The second virtue, that of Truth, is the one that most led our kindred to embrace this statement of values as our own. Early in our discussions, we decided that no matter what values we chose to hold out as our own, truth must be among them. It is a word that holds so much in its definition, and includes such a wide variety of moral and philosophical beliefs that we were all drawn to it as a simple statement of what we stood for.
At least one of the reasons we wanted to adopt it was the simple issue of honesty. As was said at one sumbel while toasting truth and honesty: "if you don't want people to know about something, don't do it." Truth, in the sense of honesty, is essential to personal honor and also to any system or morality that is not based on rigid legalism. If one is to uphold an honor code, one must be brutally honest with oneself and with others.
Truth is also the Truth that comes with a capital T--the kind of Truth that one talks about in terms of religion or morality. It's common to talk of different peoples having different "truths," but it's equally important to remember that while we acknowledge that each person or people has their own belief as to what Truth is or where to find it, there finally is a single Truth. This is not the Truth as we believe it, but ultimate Truth. While we may respect other people's "truths" and seek our own, we must never forget our search for The Truth. Like the Holy Grail of Christian legend, it may never be ours to reach, but when we cease to search we perish.
Honor is the basis for the entire Asatru moral rationale. If anything comes out in the Eddas and Sagas it is that without honor we are nothing. We remember two types of peoples from ancient times: those whose honor was so clean that they shine as examples to us and those who were so without honor that their names are cursed a thousand years after they lived. Good Asatruar should always strive to be among the former.
However, honor is not mere reputation. Honor is an internal force whose outward manifestation is reputation. Internal honor is the sacred moral compass that each Asatruar and God should hold dear. It is the inner dwelling at peace which comes from living in accordance with ones beliefs and with ones knowledge of the Truth of what one is doing. It is something deeply personal and heartfelt, almost akin to an emotion. It's a "knowing" that what one is doing is right and decent and correct.
In many ways while the most important of all the virtues it is also the most ephemeral in terms of description. It is all the other virtues rolled together and then still more. The best way I have found to describe honor is that if you are truly living with honor, you will have no regrets about what you have done with your life. Or, to put it another way, as one Celtic Pagan friend said, "Reputation is what others say about you, honor is what you know to be true about yourself."
Fidelity is a word that is far too often defined by it's narrow use in terms of marital fidelity. By the dictionary it simply means being faithful to someone or something. In marriage this means being true to ones vows and partner, and this has been narrowly defined as limiting ones sexual experience to one's spouse. While I have found this to be great practical advice, many treat fidelity as if there were no other ways in which one could be faithful or unfaithful.
For we Asatruar fidelity is most important in terms of our faith and troth to the Gods. We must remain true to the Aesir and Vanir and to our kinsmen. Like marriage, Profession (the rite in which one enters the Asatru faith, similar to Christian confirmation or Wiccan initiation) is a sacred bond between two parties; in this case an Asatruar and the Gods. In order for such a relationship to work, both must be honest and faithful to each other.
Asatru, although currently being reborn, is a reconstructionist religion and we also uphold the value of fidelity to the ways of the ancients. This is why historical research is so important to the Asatru-folk: it is the rediscovering of our ancient ways and our readoption of them.
In any discussion of the values of Asatru, discipline is best described as self-discipline. It is the exercise of personal will that upholds honor and the other virtues and translates impulse into action. If one is to be able to reject moral legalism for a system of internal honor, one must be willing to exercise the self-discipline necessary to make it work. Going back to my earlier criticism of society, if one rejects legalism, one must be willing to control ones own actions. Without self-discipline, we have the mess we all too often see in our culture.
Looking at discipline in terms of fidelity, we see a close connection. Many Pagans go from faith to faith, system to system, path to path. Asatruar are much less likely to do this. The discipline of keeping faith with our Gods and the ways of our ancestors is part of our modern practice. In this way, we limit ourselves in some ways, but we gain much more in others.
Hospitality is simply one of the strongest core values at the heart of virtually every ancient human civilization. In a community/folk religion such as our own, it is the virtue that upholds our social fabric. In ancient times it was essential that when a traveler went into the world he could find some sort of shelter and welcome for the night. In modern times it is just as essential that a traveler find friendship and safety.
In our modern Asatru community, we need to treat each other with respect and act together for the good of our community as a whole. This functions most solidly on the level of the kindred or hearth where non-familial members become extremely close and look out for each other. It can mean hospitality in the old sense of taking in people, which we've done, but in modern times it's more likely to mean loaning someone a car or a bit of money when they need it (that's need, not want).
Part of hospitality is treating other people with respect and dignity. Some overenthusiastic practioners of Asatru express their pride in their faith by behaving rudely to members of other faiths. Hospitality isn't something to be extended just to other Heathens. Many of our Gods are known to wander the world and stop in at people's houses, testing their hospitality and generosity. The virtue of hospitality means seeing people as if they were all individuals with self-respect and importance. Or perhaps from time to time, they are literally the Gods in human form.
This has profound implications for social action in our religion. Our response to societal problems such as poverty (that's poverty folks, not laziness) is in many ways our modern reaction to this ancient virtue.
In terms of our modern community as a whole, I see hospitality in terms of frontier "barn raisings" where a whole community would come together and pool their resources. This doesn't mean we have to forget differences, but we must be willing to put them aside, and work for our common good.
Modern Asatruar must be industrious in their actions. We need to work hard if we are going to achieve our goals. There is so much for us to do. We've set ourselves the task of restoring Asatru to it's former place as a mainstream faith and by doing so reinvigorating our society and culture. We can't do this by sitting on our virtues, we need to make them an active part of our behavior. Industry also refers to simple hard work in our daily vocations, done with care and pride.
Here's a few concrete examples. If you are reading this and don't have a kindred, why not? Stop reading now. Go and place ads in the appropriate local stores, get your name on networking lists, and with other Pagan groups. Put on a workshop. Ok, now you're back to reading and you don't agree with what I'm saying here? Well, be industrious! Write your own articles and arguments. Write a letter to the editor and suggest this material be banned--better that than passivity. Get the blood moving and go out and do it. That's how it gets done. The Gods do not favor the lazy.
The same holds true for our non-religious lives. As Asatruar we should offer a good example as people who add to whatever we're involved in, rather than take from it. We should be the ones the business we work in can't do without and the ones who always seem to be able to get things done. When people think of Asatru, they should think of people who are competent and who offer something to the world.
This doesn't just apply to vocational work, but to the entire way we live our lives. It is just as much a mentality. The Vikings were vital people. They lived each day to its fullest and didn't wring their hands in doubt or hesitation. We should put the same attitude forward in all that we do whether it is our usual vocation, devotion to the Gods, or leisure time.
Industry brings us directly to the virtue of Self-Reliance, which is important both in practical and traditional terms. Going back to the general notion of this article, we are dealing with a form of morality that is largely self-imposed and thus requires self-reliance. We rely on ourselves to administer our own morality.
Traditionally, our folkways have always honored the ability of a man or woman to make their own way in the world and not to lean on others for their physical needs. This is one of the ways in which several virtues reinforce and support each other. Hospitality cannot function if people are not responsible enough to exercise discipline and take care of themselves. It's for those that strive and fail or need assistance that hospitality is intended, not for the idle who simply won't take care of themselves.
In terms of our relationships with the Gods, self-reliance is also very important. If we wish the Gods to offer us their blessings and gifts, we must make ourselves worthy of them--and the Gods are most pleased with someone who stands on their own two feet. This is one of the reasons for the Asatru "rule" that we do not kneel to the Gods during our ceremonies. By standing we acknowledge our relationship as striving and fulfilled people looking for comradeship and a relationship, rather than acting as scraelings looking for a handout from on high. It takes very little for a God to attract a follower, if worship simply means getting on the gravy train. We, as Asatruar, are people who can make our own way in the world, but who choose to seek a relationship with the Gods.
In mundane terms being self-reliant is a simple way to allow ourselves the ability to live as we wish to. In simple economic terms, if one has enough money in the bank one doesn't need to worry as much about being fired due to religious discrimination. We can look a bigot in the face and tell him just where he can put it. It's also nice to have something in the bank to lay down as a retainer on a good lawyer so we can take appropriate action.
On the other side of this is self-reliance in the sense of Henry David Thoreau, who advocated a simple lifestyle that freed one from the temptations of materialism. Again, here we are able to live as we wish with those things that are truly important. Religious people from all faiths have found that adjusting ones material desires to match one's ability to meet them leaves one open for a closer relationship with deity and a more fulfilling life. While our ancestors were great collectors of gold goodies, they didn't lust for possessions in and of themselves, but for what they stood for and could do for them. In fact, the greatest thing that could be said of a Lord was that he was a good "Ring Giver."
Being self-reliant also means taking responsibility for ones life. It's not just about refusing a welfare check or not lobbying for a tax exemption, but also refusing to blame ones failures on religious intolerance, the patriarchy, or an unfair system. The system may, in fact, be unfair, but it's our own responsibility to deal with it.
In societal terms, we have become much too dependent on other people for our own good. As individuals we look to the government or to others to solve our problems, and as a society we borrow billions from our descendants to pay for today's excesses. Please note, this statement is not intended to denigrate either our government or relying on good friends. However, both can be overdone. Most problems in this world could be solved if people just paid their own way as they went.
The final virtue is Perseverance which I think most appropriate because it is the one that we most need to keep in mind in our living of the other values. Our religion teaches us that the world is an imperfect place, and nothing comes easy. We need to continue to seek after that which we desire. In this imperfect world there are no free lunches or easy accomplishments--especially in the subjects we have set before ourselves. If we truly wish to build an Asatru community that people will hold up as an example of what committed people can do, then we must persevere through the hardships that building our religion is going to entail. We must be willing to continue on when we are pushed back. If one loses a job for ones religion, the answer is not to go back and hide, but to continue until one finds a vocation where one can more forward and live as an Asatruar should.
Finally we must persevere when we simply fail. If one's kindred falls apart because of internal strife, one should go back and start over. Pick up the pieces and continue on. If nobody had done this after the disintegration of the Asatru Free Assembly, this would probably never have been written. We must be willing to continue in the hard work of making our religion strong--not just when it is convenient and easy to do so, but when it gets hard, inconvenient, or just plain boring. To accomplish without striving is to do little, but to persevere and finally accomplish a hard fought goal brings great honor.
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