I’ve put together a reflection journal of the first 95 stanzas of the Havamal that anyone who is interested can download and print to use. There are various colors available.
Odin’s path is, in some ways, the most complicated of the many paths I walk. He is a leader, a warrior, a scholar, a poet, and a shaman. That’s a lot of roles to fill, and it can be somewhat overwhelming at times. it can be easy to fall into mainstream thinking because it’s easier to do – easier to just let things be easy and to go with the crowd. Even on pagan paths, there’s a mainstream. Ironic, really, that there’s a mainstream way of doing things in a minority religion, but it’s not really that surprising.
Asatru, in particular, is notorious for the self-righteous heathens that make up a large percentage of the faith. There’s a very narrow definition of what is and isn’t okay in Asatru. I’ve been told that the only acceptable religious practices in Asatru are those that are found within the lore, but the lore doesn’t actually contain a lot of information. Mostly, the lore is a bunch of stories. Important stories, for sure, but they don’t contain the entire truth.
In some ways, Asatru tries too hard to cling to the idea of being a lore-based pagan faith. There are claims like, “Asatru is the only pagan faith that has lore that survived the crusades,” which isn’t true. The Greek and Roman myths survived, as did the Egyptian myths and the Celtic myths (and I’m sure far more). And those myths weren’t tarnished by Christian hands the way the Poetic Edda and Sagas were tarnished. That is often forgotten.
Anyway, the reason I brought that up is that I started wondering if Asatru was really the path Odin meant for me to walk, or if defining myself as an eclectic heathen would be more appropriate. As I started thinking about it, I kept coming back to this passage in the Havamal:
Happy is he who hath in himself
praise and wisdom in life;
for oft doth a man ill counsel get
when ’tis born in another’s breast.
And, as I continued to think about it, I started seeing the Othala rune in my mind. The Othala rune indicates inheritance, and it can be either physical or spiritual. On the rune-secrets site, the quote that goes with the rune is “We inherit ourselves.” I felt like I was being guided to the answers I sought, and the answer was pretty clear.
The truth is, I will never fit into any particular path because it is not what I am meant to do. I’m still figuring out what exactly it is that I am meant to do, but I know that it’s going to entail an intermingling of different paths. Odin’s path is the path of many paths, considering all the roles he takes, but the most important of those roles is sage – or seeker of wisdom.
To seek wisdom means to seek it wherever it can be found, no matter where the path may lead me. That requires sacrifice, and, as Odin is also the god of sacrifice, it makes sense that his path requires it. As for the answer to my question, I am starting to embrace the idea of identifying as an eclectic heathen. After all, the only opinions that should sway me, in matters of faith, are the opinions of the gods themselves.
Here’s the 4th of my essays on the 9 Noble Virtues.
To me, fidelity is loyalty. Loyalty to family, to friends, to the Gods I follow. I don’t always agree with my friends or family, and I don’t get along with all the Gods. But disagreements are common in all families, whether those families are blood families, friend families, or god families. And when I disagree with someone in any of my families, I still always acknowledge that my ties to them, my loyalty to them, is more important than the argument.
I’ve never understood how families can estrange themselves. How parents can disown their children or how children can refuse to talk to their parents for years. Perhaps that’s because I lost my mother when I was 15. Perhaps her loss taught me just how much family matters. Because even though there were things I hated about her, like her alcoholism, I still loved her. She was still my mother.
I’ve had friends, over the years, who were estranged from their parents for various reasons, and I always tried to encourage them to eliminate that distance without blatantly interfering. It’s not my place to decide which path another person walks, but I don’t think I’ll ever be able to properly wrap my head around complete estrangement from family.
Family is incredibly important to me, despite the difficulties I’ve faced throughout my life that are directly tied to my family. But those difficulties aren’t the only things that define my relationship with my family. There is a lot more than that, but I don’t know how to express the depth or complexity of my family dynamics without writing a book, and I’m not sure I’m ready to write a book about my life just yet – even though my grandmother keeps urging me to write one.
But I have more ties than just familial ones. There are also the ties I have to my friends. I have a lot of acquaintances, but my real friends are like family to me. If they need me, I’m there, even if I’m in the middle of my own problems. My friends are the people who have seen me at my worst and at my best and have stuck around. To me, that is what defines loyalty. Not a lack of disagreements, but the ability to compromise and move past them. And I have three incredibly close friends, despite the fact we all live incredibly far away from one another, that I trust completely. I’m reminded of the verse in the Havamal that reads:
“Crooked and far | is the way to a foe,
Though his house on the highway be;
But wide and straight | is the way to a friend,
Though far away he fare.”
That’s verse 34 of the Havamal and it comes from the Henry Adams Bellows translation, which happens to be my preferred translation of the Poetic Edda. And I agree with the sentiment, since two of my closest friends live in different countries, and the third lives 18 hours away from me. The distance doesn’t matter, though, as the four of us have been close for five years. Distance, time – all those things are relative.
As well as family and friends, my loyalty to the Gods is an important aspect of my life. I can and will discuss my faith with anyone, even when doing so is a little bit scary. A couple weeks ago, at work, a man came in and started basically going on and on about Jesus – a total zealot. I listened to him patiently for about 30 minutes because he just talked on and on without giving anyone a chance to say anything. But when I found an opening, I told him that I have a lot of respect for people who are dedicated to their own path, but that I wasn’t Christian. When I told him I was pagan, he turned around and left, but I didn’t hide it. One of my co-workers, who was standing beside me and heard the whole thing, told me she was glad that I spoke up about my beliefs. It was an interesting experience, to say the least.
And I’ve had other interesting encounters. At one of my previous jobs, I was reading a book on the history of the Vikings, and a co-worker came up to me and asked why I was reading the book. I told her that I was reading it because it pertained to my faith, and I explained what my faith was. She instantly started trying to witness to me, but it stopped her cold when I told her that I’d read the Bible all the way through, and that Christianity didn’t appeal to me. She was incredulous that I’d read the Bible and wasn’t Christian, and she kept trying to push the faith on me, until I finally asked her if she had read the book. When she said no, I told her that if she wanted to continue the conversation, she needed to go read the Bible herself before trying to witness to me. Later that day, I found out that she had never met someone who wasn’t either Christian or an atheist before, and it really shook up her worldview. I was pretty amused when I found that out, of course, because by being honest, I acted as a catalyst for her to realize the world wasn’t as black and white as she thought.
And that’s what I try to do – I try to behave in ways I feel emulate the Gods I follow. I see Odin as a warrior scholar, so I do a lot of research and I also have firm opinions. I’m willing to defend myself if I ever have need to, and I do defend myself when the need arises – even if the battle is just one of wits. I see Loki as a catalyst for change and the seeker of buried truths, so I keep my mind as open as possible, trying to look at things from every perspective without allowing other people’s opinions or beliefs to define my own. Tyr I see as a noble warrior who mediates without flinching if his own well-being comes into the process. And these are the three paths I mainly attempt to walk, though I am slowly learning other paths as well. That’s the truly difficult part of being a polytheist – there’s no way to walk a single path, not when the path of each God is different.
So fidelity, for me, is walking the paths the Gods have set before me, staying true to my friends, and staying true to my family. In my mind, this is probably the simplest of the nine virtues, but loyalty, to spite its seeming simplicity, is actually incredibly complex. Because it’s not always easy to stay loyal to your friends, your family, or the Gods you follow. No wonder, then, that oaths, once made, are so heavily weighed.