On the Nature of "Thew": The Nine Noble Virtues and the Theodish Thews
Updated: Jul 9, 2022
The heathen communities of old were comprised of folk who were at once individualistic and communally-minded. The qualities of an individual were prized and respected, but not to the extent of selfishness. In addition to individualism, devotion, loyalty, and duty to one’s kith, kin, and clan were held to be extremely important, connections that extended throughout a tribe in what is sometimes described as the “ring of troth.” A set of laws were formed by early heathen societies to guide the folk in rightful relationships with one another, not merely as a form of control as we see more and more of nowadays. The laws were formed from past experiences and precedent based on the collective experiences of the tribe, on long held customs and traditions, and on new experiences which helped shape the laws to reflect present circumstances and necessities. It is important to note, however, that the laws were outpourings from an ancient source, and anything “new” was based on something that came before it as a natural extension or outgrowth. Ad-hoc laws meant to “fundamentally transform” heathen societies by scrapping all which came before them were not historically put into practice. Those individuals who did not hold to the laws, and who dishonored their kinsmen and themselves by acting in contempt of the greater good stood to be outlawed from the community. In some places this meant to be removed from the protection the law provided to individuals and making them free game to be killed outright on sight by anyone they happened across, sometimes for a reward. In other places it took the form of “greater” and “lesser” banishment, or execution (in more severe cases.) Often disputes deemed settled once revenge was taken by the injured party (in proportion to the injury done) whether through sanctioned violence or, more often, by the paying of were-gild (man-payment) to the families of injured or slain kin or “shild” for other types of wrongs. The amount payed was based on one’s station in society that the value that individual had for society as a whole. Beloved, loyal, and highly skilled individuals often held higher castes in due time and their worth reflected the payment rendered. Everyone, however, had worth, and a payment was certain for anyone who was an upstanding member of the tribe that was injured, killed, or greviously wronged in some way (like theft or even certain types of insult meant to impugn honor.)
For a tribe to survive, its members must behave fairly and amicably with one another, which is why the heathen tribes of hold devised the thews (law codes) that they all adhered to. Reflected in the thews were the virtues that heathen societies viewed as necessary and sacred. So far, a basic overview of what our ancestors valued has been offered, and by reading the eddas and sagas, one can get a very good understanding of what these values were and how exactly they were put into practice and observed in various contexts. Many heathens today regardless of which sub-category on the "Heathen Umbrella" that they identify with acknowledge and uphold the Nine Noble Virtues, which, though a modern construction in its present form, was based off the very same virtues in the eddas and sagas.
(Before the advent of Theodism and before it became more widely known as a separate path of Heathenry, Asatru was the only wide-spread version of the Heathen religion. Asatru in its original form was tailored more around the "Viking Warrior" persona. It stressed self-reliance, individuality, and independence. While Theodsmen also value these things, Theodism has a much greater emphasis on community and tribal life. Views of the Heathen past in Theodism tend to be less romanticized and more in keeping with what we know Heathen life actually was like from existing sources, and so newer thews sprang forth. )
The Nine Noble Virtues:
1. Courage (Boldness)
Everyone has fear and feels it under one set of circumstances or another, regardless of what certain over-prideful individuals might claim. There can be no courage without fear, because courage is the act of overcoming one’s fears and doing what must be done in spite of it. Fear is a natural emotion tied to healthy self-preservation, but it must not be allowed to control us and rule our lives. Those that do allow this are what those people commonly referred to as cowards. In the current climate of the modern world, there are few opportunities to test one’s courage in battle. We are pressed into the unnatural way of life that insists that others must do our fighting for us, and that others must protect us and look out for us. This all amounts to the desire of the current world leaders to deprive individuals of personal power. Still, there are other situations that do not involve physical conflict that may arise in one’s life that call for courage in a mental and emotional way. For those who must face spiritual opponents (or commonly do face them) a higher form of courage is called for. In more mundane situations, heathens (and pagans in general) can face an atmosphere that, if not hostile, may not be amenable to our deeply-held beliefs simply because they are not the “norm.” “Fitting in” with the “others” (the monoculture) is seen as so important that any difference among people is stifled, both by peer pressure and by the fear individuals have of being rejected and socially ostracized. I for one have lived in defiance of this fear my whole life, and I greatly admire anyone who does the same. The pressure people feel to fit in with peers growing up is pushed on them involuntarily; joining a group such as ours, however, is a choice. People choose to join us because they feel their beliefs and values are shared by us; they may even discover things about themselves they had never looked at or acknowledged before. Becoming a heathen should feel like coming home, not having to negotiate one social battle after another and hide who one truly is. We have our own customs, norms, and expectations for our members, it is true, but outside of certain areas, people are generally free to be who they are. We may be endeavoring to live more closely as our ancestors did, and to think and act as they, but regardless of operating with this paradigm, individual differences will be present. In the sagas we are confronted with a broad range of colorful characters, who were both parts of the communities in which they lived and valued as individuals. Being part of a team (and in our case, a tribe) naturally involves a certain amount of cooperation and shared values and practices, but not to the extent that individuality is totally stifled. A balance is struck, whereas in the wider world individual differences are not often tolerated by most.
Courage also involves choosing to live honorably (which is seen as more trouble than it is worth by a lot of modern people) and to do the right thing even though it may be hard and may have unpleasant consequences. We must have the wisdom and honesty to recognize that despite these possible repercussions, honor is being observed and the greater good is being upheld.
This virtue necessarily implies personal honesty and integrity; a willingness to look at a situation with a cool and even head and an open, courageous heart. Many people find themselves running away from something in their lives, and even unpleasant truths about themselves or others. Some people may have an overblown ego and a pompous, egotistical view of themselves, and others may constantly berate themselves and downplay their value and abilities. Truthfulness allows us to cut through the illusions and deceptions thrown up by our own unhealthy thoughtpatterns and the negative narratives and rhetoric of toxic, cruel personalities and social constructions. Once we can do this, we begin to free ourselves from many of the things that weigh us down. If we fall short in some areas, we identify these weaknesses and turn them into strengths. If we claim strengths we do not really have, we take a step back, find our modest centers, and build up a true and positive self-image in place of the false, trumped-up ones we have shown ourselves and others as a crutch and a defense mechanism to hide our faults. Truth can also free us from toxic relationships; many people in romances and friendships often know deep down they are not being treated fairly by their significant others or their friends, but do not have the courage to admit it and stand up for what is right. They prefer to live a lie because it appears to be the easier path, but they are neither free nor truly happy when they do this. Modesty and honesty are some of the paths to freedom, and truth is the torch we carry as we tread them.
In a heathen context, it is not contradictory that our culture involves making boasts at symbel over the drinking horn. The boasts are meant to confirm true convictions held and deeds done by the person making the boast, not idle bragging and posturing by immature, egotistical fools. The latter would have quickly been indentified and dealt with by our ancestors at symbel (and outside of it.) Oaths are statements of what we WILL do, and require an honest look at ourselves, our self-discipline, and our capabilities. Making an oath and breaking it or failing to keep it was a very serious matter, both socially and metaphysically. It could negatively impact the Wyrd of the individual and the tribe, and adversely affect it’s luck and well-being. Oathmakers who were known to routinely break them or who clearly could not undertake the oath they were making were often challenged by the thyle (lawspeaker) in defense of the tribe’s wyrd. The fulfillment of an oath would often push an individual past the limitations they thought they had, and can show someone their true worth and power. The rest of the community would bestow much honor upon someone who fulfilled the oaths they made, and they would wax in spiritual luck, might, and main, bringing this to the rest of the tribe as well.
The Anglo-Saxon poem “The Wanderer” sums up our ancestor’s thoughts on this nicely:
Wita sceal gethyldig…ne naefre gielpes to georn, aer he geare cunne.
Beorn sceal gebidan, thonne he beot spriced
Oddaet collenferth, cunne gearwe
Hwider hrethra gehygd hweorfan wille.
A wise man should be patient…nor ever cry out too eagerly,before he is readied.
A stout-hearted warrior shall bide his time
When he would speak an oath, till he knows
Quite where the thoughts of his heart will turn.
This virtue should be tempered by the real-world facts, however. It may not always be time to reveal or pursue the truth; it may, when rendered in an improper form or at an improper time, bring greater evil to the people and situations in effects, far more so that withholding it (for the moment) would bring. One should use wisdom and common sense when dealing with sensitive situations. Some people may not be ready to accept the truth, and their reaction may only make matters more difficult. However, the truth must eventually out, or the people and situations involved will remain broken. Sometimes it is best to relate truths in segments, and with art and cunning. Ours was a very poetic, puzzle and riddle-minded culture. In skaldic poetry, kennings were used to identify things without directly naming them. There is a time and place for every situation; a time for the truth to be thrust out for all to see abruptly and loudly, as if the way of Thor, or to be subtly interwoven into the minds and hearts of those involved, as is often the case with Odin, who realizes that sometimes the more complex work-around is more effective in the long run than simply smashing through the figurative walls and obstacles we may face! One thing is certain, though: falsehood must not be allowed to prevail. It must be dealt with and ousted. Our ancestors were concerned with the spirit of the law much more than the dead letter, and fact-finding and judgments took forms very different from what we are used to in the justice system of today.
3. Honor (Are)
For us to live honorably, we must have integrity. We must uphold our words with our deeds, and through such actions let us know that we are folk to be trusted. Trust must be earned, and trustworthiness demonstrated, and this is why each word of falsehood spoken, and each underhanded act we partake in undermines our honor, our self-esteem, and our worth in the eyes of those who matter in our lives. The damage in not merely social but spiritual; we incur ill-wyrd when act with dishonor; our higher selves mourn the selfish, devious actions of our earthly consciousnesses, limited as they are. When there is discord between the eternal, higher self that lives from one lifetime to the next, faring from one world to another, and we give in to the negative temporal impulses that harm our kith and kin, we are spiritually tarnished, and with enough of such behavior, even physical illness and circumstantial mishaps can manifest on this plane of existence, for all things are connected. What occurs on one plane of existence affects them all. When we keep our word, tell the truth, and do right by others, our power grows. More positive opportunities arise in life, better circumstances present themselves, and the way forward appears more clear. Our words and deeds have more power to affect our lives for the better and those of the people we care for. When we take oaths, especially at certain holy tides, such as when we swear upon the sacred yule-boar or the oath ring that holds the collective luck of the tribe, we reach out into the cosmic web of wyrd, directly affecting our fate and that of our kinsmen. To violate an oath is to sunder the power of the oath-breaker and those tied to them in the ring of troth to which they all belong. The “Are” of an individual is the store of spiritual might and main they have, and their capacity to affect the world around them. Some people are strong and gifted of mind and body, and yet try though they might, appear to make no “splash” or impact upon the world around them. They live and die in obscurity, and leave no significant mark or footprint in the fields of eternity. If they incur enough dishonor and sink low enough, they then begin to leech off of the “Are” of others, and the rest of the tribe can begin to feel like they are shackled to a corpse (or a psychic vampire, even.) Those proven individuals who have undergone worthing shall wax in might; the gods will see them and heed them, the blessings they make and the spells they cast shall reach far and wide throughout the worlds, and the runes they rist will flow with a power unmatched by those who have sullied their own souls. Their words will resound clear and convincing to the listener, and their deeds, when wrought for good, shall bring them even more are and more power to affect the world around them. It is true that some people accrue much honor only to take a great fall, and this explains many of the dictators and tyrants throughout history who temporarily seize power and wield control only to be toppled and destroyed in the end, crushed under the weight of their own malevolence.
To heed one’s higher self is to willingly follow the moral compass we are imbued with. It speaks to us subliminally, welling up at times almost like a fountain and manifesting as a clear and unshakable certainty of the rightness or action of a cause. This clarity may not be obtained immediately, but with enough soul-searching, the inner light will shine through and illuminate the path. Those who actively stifle this voice, and follow their own vanity and selfish desires may so dishonor themselves that their reputation is ruined in the eyes of others, and they were branded “nithing” (nothing, a person of no worth or value) often cast out of society due to the menace they posed and the harm they would invariably do.
It is important that we seek after pure and honorable works and heed the voice of our eternal selves, for our personalities and identities in this life are temporary, and one of many “faces” which we present on Midgard from one incarnation to the next. Some folk may spend some time in the other worlds, and eventually find themselves back here for another “round.” Others may complete the circle and permanently retire from the “World of making” after many, many lessons and lifetimes, assuming a new temporary identity (the ego) each time, while the superego (the soul) remains constant, apart from the spiritual progress or digression it accumulates from one incarnation to the next. The soul is completely honest with itself, and abides no falsehood. When we sink into dishonor, it becomes necessary to correct this, and we will face one incarnation after another until we do. Otherwise the soul can never truly be free.
The Allfather, Odin/Woden, speaks on the legacy we leave behind for our kin and our descendants in the Havamal of the Poetic Edda. This is a set of wisdom sayings in which the god outlines what is most important in life:
Cattle die, kinsmen die, you shall one day perish yourself.
But the saga tales shall never die: the reputation of the honored dead.
Cattle die, kinsmen die, you shall one day perish yourself.
One thing I know that falters not: the respect of those left behind.
4. Loyalty (Fidelity, Troth)
This is perhaps one of the most important of all heathen virtues, as it is what safeguards the holy bonds between gods and devotees, kings to jarls, jarls to thanes, husbands and wives, as well as brothers and sisters, parents and siblings, and blood and shield brothers. It also connects all members of a tribe to one another through a network of oaths called the “ring of troth.” Few people in the modern world are familiar with the intensity of such social bonds, and are rather free-footed and laissez-faire with the idea that they can walk out or turn on someone at any time if it suits them to do so, no matter how petty and selfish the reason. Consider all the marriages, relationships, and so-called “friendships” in the modern world that you have witnessed or heard about going awry, and be honest about the justness of the reasoning the involved parties use to violate their bonds. This is not the case with true heathen communities, which consider the sundering of the bonds of loyalty (without just and proper cause, such as when they have wronged you first or left you with little choice other than to break it off due to their dishonorable, foolish, and reckless actions.) Without such bonds, permanent and stable folk societies could not exist. Civilization is on the decline precisely because these age-old bonds are dissolving, all in the name of nihilism, selfish individualism, and greed. Consider the situation today. I guarantee you that a very, very small percentage of the American people have genuine respect and admiration for their political leadership (and probably not very much for those of their fellow citizens which are not of the political party or religious affiliation that the individuals in question belong to.) They may say that they “love all Americans, Canadians, etc.” but be brutally honest with how true these statements might actually be. Are they merely empty pretenses to make the people saying them feel better about themselves? With every passing year, American society (for example) seems to be more and more divided. No one can seem to agree on much of anything, and few are willing to compromise or seriously question the rightness of their own beliefs. The heathen concept of loyalty, in sharp contradistinction to any modern ideas about the same virtue, involves getting to know one’s kinsmen, making a personal judgment wherein the individual decides that the folk they are joining themselves to by oath are worthy individuals to share wyrd with. Heathens should not let minor differences in opinion get in the way of the established and shared goals of the group, and will not let petty rivalries or disagreements tear the tribe apart. This means that each member much have the maturity to negotiate disagreements and arrive at settlements without lingering grievances and inter-personal antagonisms that will only surface in the future because they are not brought out in the open and resolved. More importantly, the membership has to be able to TAKE healthy criticism and accept the faults and problems that are pointed out without getting angry and defensive. If all dialogue is shut down in an attempt to maintain the so-called “peace” (an illusion if ever there was one) then no progress can be made and no healing and mending at a communal level can take place. We rise and fall together. We learn and grow together (or at least a heathen tribe SHOULD.) If a prospective new member has major objections to a tribe’s core beliefs, values, and goals, if they are only joining for social reasons and to get attention, they should not join. Period. Otherwise, these major fault lines in the social landscape WILL eventually surface, with disastrous results for the tribe. It is often the case with newly-formed kindreds that mistakes in membership selection are made, necessitating a reformation or a break-away, but the more experienced kindreds who listen to their inner wisdom will learn from these mistakes and go on to form more stable tribes.
Many people in the modern world are skittish about committing to anything in a serious capacity, and seem to prefer blowing through life like aimless tumbleweeds. If someone does decide to join a kindred, they are making a formal declaration before their gods and their ancestors that they are willing to pursue and share the goals and beliefs of the tribe they are joining. They swear to support its membership in all their personal battles, and to use the wisdom they have to advise them against ill-conceived plans and pursuits. Make no mistake: there can be no stability and no prosperous and happy future for a group that is constantly bickering, fighting, and plotting behind one another’s backs. Prospective new members must be honest about themselves and their motivations for joining, and established members must have the good judgment and experience to recognize the truth of the matters set before them. When someone does finally arrive at the place where they belong, the feeling they get about the rightness of the action should well up from the deepest depths of their souls. These intuitive feelings can and should match the logical judgments heretofore mentioned. If a genuine mistake is made, though, our kindred is willing to accept the reservation of those who have not yet taken the innengarth oath and will respect the decision of the individual(s) involved to leave the group before that point.
When one becomes a heathen, one swears fealty to the gods of the heathen folk, the Aesir and Vanir, professing that they will honor and worship them and no other gods outside our pantheon. The new heathen also reestablishes their troth and connection with their ancestral lines, and the way of life upheld by these ancestors for many millennia (until the Christian usurpation of our folk soul.) Without such bonds of loyalty, we cannot progress our faith and we cannot retake our rightful place among the religions of the world. The Loyal Thanes theod upholds the notion that Heathenry is the natural and proper religion for all people of Northern European descent, but we also will be looking for the signs that the individual in question is truly ready to accept the rights and responsibilities attendant upon joining our ranks. There are many, many people who share the blood of our folk but may not be ready to join with us in troth, being preoccupied as they are with the corrupt ways of the modern world.
Self control or self-mastery was a quality highly admired by our ancestors. An individual who was both brave AND wise would consider all of the possible courses or action (and the consequences of those courses) before embarking upon a pursuit, whether it was an expedition to explore new lands, a raid or a full-blown war against an enemy, or revenge against an individual who had wronged them and required honor to be restored through retaliation. The heathen hero Grettir the Strong is quoted as saying “a thrall takes his revenge at once, a coward never.” As heathens, we should have the wisdom and self-control to hold back on our aims until the time is right and we are amply prepared, rather than foolishly and impulsively rushing forward to our possible doom, or to the detriment of our kith and kin. In the “Heathen heroes” section of our site, we encounter the story of King Olaf Trygvasson and his dealings with Queen Sigrid of Sweden. Even though Sigrid accepts Olaf’s Christianity, Olaf is angry that Sigrid will not be a Christian as well. Olaf strikes Sigrid across the face and insults her honor without considering the possible consequences of his actions. As a result, Sigrid organizes a coalition army which brings about his defeat and death at the battle of Svolder around the year 1000 CE. Since he had abandoned the wisdom of his ancestors, Olaf lashed out with angst and emotion and paid the ultimate price for his actions. Self-control tempered with bravery and boldness is the way of the Heathen, and of Odin, highest and holiest of the Aesir, in particular. We must be master of ourselves, ready to reign in our passions and devote ourselves to the path of honor and maturity. Getting to know one’s true nature is one of the finest treasures someone can obtain, for when we know and master ourselves, we place ourselves in a stable position from which to deal with all obstacles which come our way. Many people in the modern world are immature, selfish, and impulsive; so many people are wont to blow their entire paychecks on hedonistic tears to drown out their sorrows and problems, even though it hurts them and those that they love. People who call each other “friends” may lash out at one another with cruel, belittling, and unjust words, and take actions against these “friends” when it is convenient! The Loyal Thanes kindred prides itself on being composed of members who endeavor always to maintain a balanced and objective view of themselves, their capabilities, and any weaknesses that need to be worked on. We must use our emotions, our passions, our drives, as tools to serve honorable and legitimate ends. We must strive to be masters of ourselves, and not be the unwitting thralls of our own folly. No one is perfect, no one knows absolutely everything, and there is always room for improvement. Healthy, well –deserved pride in ourselves must be balanced with honesty, humility, and self-control. This, after all, is why we are here on Midgard. We are here to learn and to spiritually evolve, to make ourselves better and more worthy beings with each passing incarnation.
6. Hospitality (Guest Friendliness)
Survival was not as certain in the days of yore as it is in the present era. The distances that had to be traveled were long, and the methods slow. Bandits, inclement weather, and other mishaps were a constant threat to those who had to fare from hearth and home. In heathen times and lands, the virtue of hospitality was very important because it ensured the mutual survival of a tribe or nation. When a traveler hard on their luck came to the door of their kin, their fellow tribesmen, or their countrymen, they could expect a warm fire, good food and drink, and a decent bed for the night. Hospitality was not to be taken advantage of, however: anyone staying over three days was required, barring injury or illness, to help out with the housework or farmwork! Leeches were despised, and everyone in society was expected to pull their own weight to the capacity that they were able. Consider the same situation today. Government handouts and “benefits” may be necessary for the genuinely disabled, but there are many people perfectly capable of making their own way who simply choose not to do so. Unfortunately, due to the current economic problems of our era, genuine opportunities for success and the “good life” are becoming less and less accessible all the time, and much of this owes to the corruption of modern culture. Corporate big-whigs live it up while the common people struggle their whole lives just to survive.
Our communities and our nations are so disjointed that most folk who turned up at someone’s door would be turned away without a second thought, and probably suspected of harboring ill intentions. This may in fact be true, as the bonds of society are so thin that there are many people who would not hesitate to take advantage of the generosity of others. Some may use it to do harm to the very people who offer their help to the wayfarer. The bonds of trust have broken down because we live in these sprawling, dysfunctional, anomic, post-industrial societies. Many modern societies are based on corporations and business rather than on tribal or national pride and identity. The exception may still exist in some small towns and communities to some degree, but overall the trend is that such arrangements are becoming a thing of the past and only the “bottom line” is deemed to really matter. That is not to say that genuinely good and caring people no longer exist in the world; I am only saying that the overall emphasis is no longer on the greater good of the community in question. Nations and communities are split by rival factions, political parties, and special interest groups who would like nothing better than to run roughshod over the rights and privileges of those who are not part of their cliques.
The kingdoms and jarldoms of the heathen past were not founded on the notion that the common folk had to serve the interests of the ruling elite without reciprocation. A good ruler was generous with food, drink, shelter, and gold to their thanes, household retainers, and friends, and conscious of the needs of their people as a whole ( to the extent that they could provide them.) The people, in turn, provided their services to leadership and tribe, all knowing that thaey were an important part of the community with something to bring to the table that everyone else could not do without. The benefits and service did not flow one way, but was bi-directional. Interactions among the castes of heathen societies were balanced and give and take, and violators of this rule were not tolerated for long. Those rulers who neglected such hospitality and were selfish and closed-fisted found themselves deposed, sometimes violently so. Similarly, families or individual members of the community who did not practice civic mindedness or concern for the greater good were sure to feel the displeasure of their peers.
In modern kindreds, members should always be willing and ready to help other members in genuine need, without allowing them to abandon all self-reliance and abuse this virtue as a crutch to make others feel sorry for them. Everyone needs help from time to time, but heathens should try to be self-reliant where possible, though they should also bear in mind that some pursuits are better embarked upon as a group. Kinsmen should also treat one another with the respect and dignity they deserve, and be acknowledged for their station and accomplishments within the tribe. Jealously and envy should not be cause for those who claim to be members of the same tribe to withhold aid from one another, nor should greed cause any member to stay their hand when a fellow member genuinely needs the help. The modern world’s societies are divided upon socio-economic fault lines like “capitalism”, “socialism”, and “communism.” In heathen societies, the business success of individuals and families was important, but so was the greater good of the community. A balance was struck in which both views were respected and observed, without the need to resort to one extreme or another. There was no need to “redistribute wealth” by way of big government action, nor was there a propensity for the select few to selfishly horde their gains while their countrymen starved and suffered. Each cast gave and took from the ones above and below in an fair, equitable sharing of resources and aid that benefitted all. This ancient method of socio-economic interaction is called “tribalism” and could be found in the vast majority of indigenous folk cultures, before modern ideas about big business and corporate greed took hold. Material wealth is but a means to an end (survival and a decent life) and should be seen as subordinate to the ultimate goal of spiritual growth. Asceticism and detachment from all things “worldly” is not a requirement in heathenry and is in many respects anathema to it: heathens should enjoy life to the extent that they are able, but be open to higher callings and purpose without getting lost in these pursuits the way so many materialist-minded people have in today’s world. An unhealthy focus on the acquisition of wealth and prosperity invariably leads to a callousness towards one’s fellow beings that in the end can bring only the destruction of any society in the long run.
7. Industriousness (making productive use of one’s time on behalf of the self and others)
Excessive idleness was another threat to survival that touched on the lives of our ancestors. Without everyone pulling their weight and doing their part, the crops would not be sown and harvested, the livestock would get sick or die, trade would not take place, and the various other tasks necessary to the vitality of society would be left untended with dire consequences. The family was the basic building block of the social structure, and so each family looked after their own, but actions and endeavors on behalf of the tribe was a very close second, because the various families worked together for the weal of the clan, the various clans for the tribe, and the tribes for the nation to which they may have each been a part. What affected one section of society (whether beneficially or adversely) affected them all. Those who were disabled, elderly, or sick were still honored and provided for because they had likely borne many tasks for society in the past, and likely still did in the areas they could. The wisdom of the elderly, in particular, was thought to have great value, for they could help direct the efforts of the young towards their goals in a way that allowed them to be more productive and efficient. Elders, when not rulers themselves, often functioned as the inner council to which the ruler would refer for advice. In England the idea of such a body of councilors as being elderly is reflected in the Anglo-Saxon word Ealdormen (Eldermen), a council of nobles who were each drawn from a shire, sibb, or county that they represented in order to advise a king on important matters, and they were usually jarls and hersir who had experience with such matters. Industriousness also refers not just to the dutiful and diligent pursuit of our work, but doing such work well, with a full heart, and with healthy pride in oneself and one’s people. All heathen folk should seek to discover what they are skilled at and develop these skills to the utmost. Everyone experiences adversity in their lives to a greater or lesser extent, and it is the overcoming of these obstacles and the attainment of success in life that helps pave the way for good and fulfilling living. Heathens should never “settle” for a less than desirable fate if something can be done to better it. The future well being of ourselves and our loved ones depend on it, and though there might be those in power today that depend on the sheepish acceptance the masses are expected to display in regards to their lot, our tribe will not be counted among them! Industriousness also implies working together for common goals. Individualism is good to a point, but not when it becomes blind to the plight and needs of others and not when it devolves into being selfish and mercenary in nature. We should not step over one another to get ahead, but should help each other to survive and thrive in a process of give and take. Heathens should not merely live off of the hard work provided by others, but do what they can to help sustain what has been built and add to it to help the tribe reach even greater heights.
The wisdom sayings of Woden, the Allfather, bear mention here:
“Little meat will the wolf get when he lies in the cave, nor victory shall a sleeping warrior have.
A bondi with few farmhands should rise with the dawn, and betake himself to the tasks before him.
He who idles in the farmhouse while Sunna’s rays gleam will miss much opportunity.
This refers not just independent living and caring for one’s needs without leaning on others, but taking responsibility for our actions. By agreeing to be part of something more than themselves, a karl inherits certain rights, privileges, and benefits. The karlar possessed free will and each were their own man or woman, but they had duties and responsibilities both to their leaders and to their fellow tribe members. They also had a duty to take care of their sick, elderly, and children who depended on them. This is something that is referred to more commonly nowadays among civic philosophers as “social contract”: the idea that in exchange for the benefits of membership in a society, we have to give something of ourselves in return and is bound to respect and uphold the customs, laws, and folkways of such a society. Of course, an individual is free to “go it alone” but seldom does this turn out well. Little help can be had for an outlaw or a renegade other than that which they render unto themselves, and even for the most stout hearted of our ancestors this often proved to not be enough. Heathen societies allowed for a network of emotional, social, and material provision in which each member contributed and each received in turn. Our ancestors dreaded a sentence of outlawry and banishment to the Outer Garth because one’s freedom of action is actually greatly diminished in many ways rather than enhanced. When we lose the goodwill and grace of the gods, and the soul-might and clan luck we inherited from our ancestors for their honorable, strong deeds, we lose much. Any deeds of import we set out to do will lack the metaphysical power and foundational strength to manifest in a healthy and full way on this plane of existence. The more material-minded may scoff at such an idea, but it does explain why some people in history who undertake great deeds succeed, while others in similar circumstances and attempting a similar task fail. The “cards” just don’t seem to line up quite the way they should. This is more than the randomness of chance; this is the working of wyrd in our lives, for weal or for woe. The benefits of being part of a tribe is not to be confused with leaning on other people as a crutch, and being able to do absolutely nothing for oneself. It has been said in recent times that “no man is an island” and in the vast majority of cases this turns out to be true for one reason or another. Having integrity and the bravery to go it alone when necessary, and when present social affiliations are more detrimental and beneficial to our wellbeing, but when true friends and kinsmen are finally found, such friendship should be cherished as something sacred. Happiness lies not in the multitude of friends, but in a few well chosen. While more people working for a common goal makes for a more effective unit, each person that is a part of a tribe must be worth the effort, investment, trust, and confidence placed in them by their peers. All hands must be on deck. This proof of one’s mettle and value is often referred to as “worthing” in heathen circles. If we cannot stand on our own, if we have not developed our personalities and our skills as much as we can (and for the better) how much good can we really be to anyone else? Everyone has potential and value in some way, and recognizing and pursuing personal excellence (though tempered with a healthy dose of honesty and humility) is a choice that each of us must eventually make.
Responsibility for our actions also entails an understanding that we can shape our own destinies. We should not constantly bewail and blame the circumstances set before us or other people for the troubles we find ourselves in. They may have had bearing (even an immense bearing) on the present situation, but seldom can these situations be 100% explained away by forces outside of our control. We must be honest about ourselves and our capabilities, and recognize that there are things we can do to better our situation. Even when things look grim and helpless, and we are in one way or another deprived of freedom of action due to illness or worse, the attitude we carry and the will continue to be masters of ourselves is something that can never be taken from us. The loss of external freedom cannot chain us up on the inside unless we allow it to happen. It is important to recognize that discretion is sometimes the better part of valour, and sometimes we have done all that we could possibly do and can do no more (externally) but the inner fire we all carry inside our souls can never be put out unless we allow it to happen.
This virtue has much to do with the “inner fire” I spoke of in relation to the virtue of self-reliance. Someone with great soul-might and stores of clan luck may find it easier than others to rise above adversity and keep going, but its something that we all can do if we reach deep enough within to find it. The heroes of old, the freedom fighters, revolutionaries, and conquerors, seemed to do this more ease than was ordinary for most people. This did not mean that the struggles they faced were any easier to bear, but bear them they did. They had a confidence in their will and their innate abilities that allowed them to carry the day. No matter how dark, unpleasant, or hopeless things get, we must all recognize that we are never truly out of the fight. Weyland, an elven smith from our lore, was taken prisoner and hamstung (had the tendons in his legs cut away) to prevent his escape. He was dishonored and disgraced, forced to work on producing treasures for his enemies. He didn’t just lay down and die, but allowed the force of his will to carry him through this terrible ordeal. He mustered all his cunning and courage and eventually brought about the revenge his foes deserved and his escape from captivity, using his gifts and talents to bring this about (in this case, he smithed a pair of wings and flew away from the island that served as his prison.)
Even if we fail and realize the outmost bounds of our limitations, we can always find another way forward, even if it is different from the way that we thought was meant for us or that we had always imagined for ourselves. Life often throws these kind of curveballs for a reason, and these reasons are often not understood when they happen. We have to find the courage to let our orlog (the immutable, unchangeable facets of our fates) play out, and the grace to take what comes with it. By having the courage to carry on and find the path we were meant to follow, we show our strength. By believing in a cause that few if any around us can believe in, and pursuing dreams which others scoff at, we show that we have an indomitable will which they lack. By having the courage to look at our lives, recognize what can be changed, and taking it upon ourselves to do so, we can bring ourselves out of seemingly hopeless situations. We should learn from the mistakes of the past, grow stronger from them, and avoid making the same mistakes in the future. In this way we wax in wisdom and through initial hardship the way forward can actually become easier over time.
Even the gods themselves had to learn these lessons at one time or another. Frigga, despite her best efforts, could not avert the doom of her beloved son Baldr. Thor seemed to have finally been overmatched at the court of Utgarda-Loki, only to find later that he had been tricked and humiliated by glamour magic. Frigga still wards and protects those she loves, and Thor still valiantly stand between our world and the crushing might of the Jotnar. Even if the situation we face as it currently stands really is impossible to surmount, that does not mean there is not another route to victory. Odin knows that he will be devored by the Fenris Wolf at Ragnarok, but he made sure that his son Vidarr could take vengeance for him and carry on when he is gone to do the work that he will have to leave unfinished. Sometimes waiting and biding one’s time is the best strategy; this is what Sigmund did in the Volsunga Saga. When his sword Gram finally breaks asunder, he exclaims that he “has wielded sword while Odin willed it.” As he lay dying he had the satisfaction of knowing that he had done his utmost in life and accepted his death with grace. Odin advises us to “hail not the day ere Sunna sinks below” (a warning not to let down our guard and claim victory before the struggle is through) or to “praise a man until he is dead” (for how can we know the extent of praise to give when the living man is not through living?) We may lose battles here and there, but the war is not truly lost while we still draw breath and can carry on the fight. When no one else trusts in our strength and ability, we must never lose faith in ourselves, for though we may be temporarily fettered by external circumstances, our souls remain free and uncowed, and never shall we have to depend on the esteem of others to know our own worth. Others may come to know it through our deeds, but even if they cannot see it first, even if they cannot believe it or through vanity and jealousy do not wish to believe it, we can still hold to the true knowledge that we are our deeds.
The Three Great Wynns of Theodish Belief:
The Three Great Wynns (Joys) were formulated from the available body of Heathen lore by Garman Lord, the Cyning (King) of the Winland Rice and founder of Theodish Belief. In the theodish thews we can see a shift in the area of concern from individual virtues to transpersonal ones that more directly impact the family and tribal life. They are:
Trust in and respect for the folk wisdom passed down to us from Heathen times. Our deeds and decisions should be in keeping with such wisdom, and in place of the modern idea of "wisdom" (if there even is such a thing, perhaps modern thinking or viewpoints are better terms) wherever possible. This denotes a reverence and esteem held for the past, not the upstart know-it-all of the present that seem bent on canning and trashing everything that came before the modern era.
This thew is often confused with “knowledge.” Knowledge is the sum total of facts about the self and the world that someone acquires through study, inquiry, and observation. It can pertain to science, literature, philosophy, and many other fields. Wisdom is the correct application of knowledge to life’s challenges and problems. It is common sense, good judgment, and prudent self-counsel. It also entails recognizing and accepting wisdom given in the counsel of others, and not being so prideful or arrogant as to reject the truth out of hand when you hear it from the lips of another. It is the “master key” of all the other thews, as without it, they could be applied incorrectly or could be overdone, sometimes in harmful or even fateful ways. For example, a fool without wisdom might take “courage” to mean charging straight into an enemy machine gun nest without covering fire and the application of maneuver to reduce the enemy position in a wise, skillful way that has the least likelihood of injury or death and the greatest chances of success. Sometimes wisdom might tell us that discretion is the greater part of valor, and that sometimes we must withdraw to fight another day when we are in a better position to attack. Hospitality might be taken to mean letting just anybody in your home and sharing your resources with them, even if they are likely to be dangerous and to harbor you ill-will. It could also mean reducing your resources and funds to nothing, by being too open-handed with people who are not your kinsfolk, to the detriment of yourself and your family. There are many possibilities, but you probably get the point. Without wisdom as a guiding force in life, we can and do make foolish errors and choices. The gods of our folk are full of wisdom, and Odin especially so. In the Nibelungenlied, Hagen (an Odin-like character), is often looked down upon for urging caution and restraint instead of hot-blooded reactionism and rash moves, but when the plans of the less-cautious lead to deaths and tragedies, he is proven right in his assessments. Eventually Hagen himself dies, a fate he accepts gladly in the process of upholding the thew of troth to one’s kinsfolk above aught else. He knew the correct place and time to make a move, and knew that living with the shame of remaining passive in this instance would be worse than dying.
The gods each have their own brand of wisdom to offer. For Odin, the solutions are often the product of complex, indirect problem solving; he picks the right time and place to act, and uses the right tool for the job. He knows which thew to bring forth at this pivotal moments to bring about the greatest chances of success in every endeavor. His wife, Frigga, relies on the gift of prophecy and future sight to plan for emergencies and challenges ahead of time. Forewarned is forearmed. Thor, Odin’s son, is much more simple and direct in his problem solving skills. He attacks a problem head-on, at what he perceives to be its weakest point or place of origin to gain victory. His wisdom is everyday “street smarts” and common sense.
Worthmind (Personal Honor)-
The maintence of a personal sense of honor. This entails treating others fairly and with respect, including people outside of the theod and people that are not Heathens. However, if people insist on disrespecting us, then we need not expend any more of this consideration on them. It especially applies to maintaining frith and a good right will between oneself and one's fellow theodsmen, and grith between ourselves and other heathen groups that we may interact with so long as the same consideration is shown to us. The entirely of the "Noble Nine Virtues" mentioned in Part 1 of this blog series could technically apply under this rubric, but again, with the emphasis on relations between oneself and others. Personal honor and the shallow idea of social standing that modern people understand can often be quite different things; people can achieve notable esteem in modern society while dishonorably stepping on many people to get there. Personal honor means maintaining your own inner principles, listening to your conscience, and not getting ahead at anyone else's expense. It means showing empathy and consideration, and politeness where it is warranted and deserved.
This thew is similar to hospitality in some respects; however, while hospitality refers to rising to the occasion and giving what is needed to kinsfolk in need, generosity has a much more broad range of applications. It is represented by the jarl as “ring-giver.” To those who are given much, much is expected. A jarl with much wealth was expected to share what they had with the tribe; in turn, the tribe gave back just as much with what they had. This is one of the ways that kings, jarls, and hersir secured a loyal following in their respective spheres of influence. They may not have given gold for gold, but made contributions in some other way. For thanes, this meant being ready to risk their lives, to bear burdens and hardships, and to show the utmost loyalty and willingness to fight for jarl and folk. For farmers, this meant doing their best to make sure that they got high yields of crops and raised good herds of chattel, and a willingness to share it with the rest of the tribe. For husbands and wives, this meant love, support, respect, and trust given and received. The relationship could take many forms, but always it refers to gifts given and received in equal measure between two parties. Those who do not have much money but are willing to give of their time and talent are just as valuable as the more wealthy members of a tribe, if not more so! What good, after all, is a kinsman who has lots of money, but will not share it (reasonably) with the tribe and put it to use for the greater good? This is not to be seen as a socialist bid for “redistribution of wealth” –far from it- but there is a big difference between giving of what you have when and where it is truly needed by those you care about and simply giving everything away to a monolithic state or government to be given out to citizens at their pleasure and discretion. Stinginess among wealthy kinsmen, unreliability among mature and able-bodied folk, and a lack of team spirit and willingness to help and participate among kinsmen with various talents that they could contribute: these are all things to be avoided in the name of the thew of generosity.
Other Theodish Thews:
This means, in the broadest sense, treating people how they deserve; that is, returning the respect that they show to us. It also means recognizing the innate worth someone has, something which can be shown through their deeds. It is through honorable words, but much more so through honorable deeds, that an individual acquires merit in the eyes of their kinsmen. Someone who is “tru” to the heathen path and who will not compromise on it for the shallow ideologies and expectations of the modern world is especially so honored, since it takes great courage of heart and strength of soul to do this despite the fact that those around us are living differently and may judge us for it. The monoculture might judge such folk adversely, but in the eyes of their fellows, a true man or woman should always be treated with respect and dignity.
I will also mention here again that the folkways of northern Europe was very gender egalitarian. Women were not considered “less” than men, but each gender was given different roles to carry out. Both men and women could be jarls, gothis/gythjas (priests/priestesses), vitkis and seidhmadrs (magicians), skalds, warriors, and almost any other caste or job you can think of. However, in the general sense, the farmwork, building, and fighting was done by men, and household tasks like spinning, weaving, cleaning, cooking, etc, was done by women. Women did not HAVE to stay in the boundaries of the house, however. She could take on the life of a warrior (as a shieldmaiden) and go to battles or on Viking raids and hold her own with the best of the male warriors. She would not be criticized or ostracized for this choice. Most women, however, simply did not WANT to take on this kind of life. Men, by contrast, were expected to learn how to be proficient in skill at arms and be ready to stand in the shield wall of the village levy when called upon. A man who shirked his duties as a warrior was often marked with dishonor (unless illness, injury, or advanced old age prevented him, but even then, when the survival of the family was at stake, such men were still expected to summon up whatever strength they had left to defend the family if they were still at all physically capable of making such a “last stand.”) Not ALL men were expected to become professional, full-time warriors, but all were expected to know how to fight well, and to have the courage and resolve to protect kith and kin when their family was threatened or when the jarl called upon them to join the village militia.
This virtue comes to some naturally, and others with practice, diligence, and self-development. It applies not just to the physical, but the intellectual and spiritual spheres of being. The might of an individual stemmed from all three of these areas; if one was lacking, it would hamper the full effectiveness of the others, and this was why a balanced view of strength was taken by our ancestors. Since the mind rules the body, and the spirit over the mind, those who were spiritually “cut-off” and those who were dim-witted fools and simpletons were viewed with far more disdain than someone who was weak in body or physically compromised in some other way. If someone did not have lots of strength physically, but was intellectually “sharp” and spiritually adept, this more than made up for the lack of muscular strength or healthy constitution such individuals lacked. It was also thought that, with practice and diligence, it was possible for those strong in mind and spirit to overcome and change their physical handicaps (mind over matter) even if this took a very long time to do in some cases. This is why the stereotype of the biggest Viking brute with all brawn and no brains automatically being the leader is an invention of Hollywood and a product of modern stereotypes being applied to our ancestors: our people would have never stood for a jarl who was an arrogant jerk and a fool, and would rather remove and replace them- by force if necessary – then allow such a dim-wit to lead them down the road to destruction.
Tied to all spheres of being is one’s strength of will; the will to overcome trials and obstacles; to face them and see them through. Those who were weak-willed could never hope to overcome any impediments they may have been born with, or to conquer life’s many problems. They who would be called “strong” must WANT to succeed badly enough, must be willing to suffer and toil to do so, must be willing to face their fears, and must BELIEVE that they can! Otherwise, nothing of any worth can be accomplished.
In the thew of strength, we covered how every individual member of a heathen tribe must be self-sufficient and develop themselves for the better in mind, body, and spirit. In kinship, this view is extended to the tribe as a “larger family.” You can think of the individual as cells; the nuclear and extended family to which each individual belongs formed the organs and various larger body parts of the tribe. Since most of us come from Christian or otherwise non-heathen families, we must redefine what is meant by “family” in terms of the kindred. This does not mean that we must dispense with the families we are tied to by blood; but we must recognize that for a kindred to truly be close-knit and loyal in the dealings members have with one another the kindred must become a kind of surrogate family. This, obviously, is a personal choice that each individual must make, and entails getting to know every member in great detail before making that choice. It involves developing a healthy respect for the worth and honor or each member, and embracing what the kindred is truly all about. Each new member must be willing to pull their own weight and must be able to be relied upon the way families used to be able to do for one another. I say “used to” because many families in the modern world are dysfunctional and divided to the core, and in consequence, so is the wider society. As heathens, we must not follow in the fatal example of an increasingly troubled monoculture, and must devote our time and energy to the betterment of ourselves and to the service of the tribe to which we belong.
In more ancient times, the family, and not society, was responsible for the care of sick, injured, and disabled family members. Only when all means and resources were used up was the matter deferred to the wider heathen tribe. The tribe was like a bigger family, it was true, but these matters were settled by the immediate family before being brought before the tribe for help. This was the “hierarchy of help”, as it were. The individual should try to help themselves until the problem is truly beyond them, then they go to the family. The family helps until the means are beyond them to deal with it, then they go to the tribe. This was all done in the name of the thew of self-reliance. That way, the leeches and freeloaders of society were quickly weeded out. Anyone who takes from the tribe without giving is little better than a criminal. Someone who eats community food without giving something is essentially stealing from and harming the tribe. Someone who is continually asking for the time and energy of their kinsmen in one endeavor or another, and yet never offers such service themselves, is freeloading and is unworthy of kinship. In the short term, such one-sided transactions may seem to benefit the user, but in the larger scope of things they harm not only themselves but the society of which they claim to be apart. Corporations that unfairly hike up prices or sell harmful, unsafe products are directly harming society as surely as the murderers and thieves. Corporations asks for many, many work hours to be undertaken by their employees, for pay that does not in any way reflect the sacrifices they make. Corporate CEO’s and other big-wigs getan unjustifiably huge paycheck for essentially GIVING very little of themselves. It is not enough to lead; one must also be willing to GIVE. How many world leaders or corporate leaders routinely give back to the community in way that directly affects their livelihoods? Very, very few. Nature, too, suffers from this imbalance. Everyone, regardless of their religious and social allegiances, rise or fall with nature. If we pollute nature to the point where the environment becomes toxic and uninhabitable, it is not just nature that loses, but all of us as well. Most people and corporations take from and pollute nature without returning anything at all, and without any consideration for the well being of the ecosystem and the environment. In the short term, this benefits humans, but eventually when nature begins to wane in strength, so too will they. Without trees, there is no oxygen, without oxygen, there is not life. Without animals, there is no food and no balance to the food chain. Everyone has a role to play in a heathen tribe, and everyone must do their part. Even if the monoculture does not wake up from their folly and follow suit, we can take pride in knowing that we stood for honor when few others did, and our efforts may yet contribute to restoring the universal balance to which all things are connected.