A virtue is a behavioural quality that is considered desirable. The modern meaning adds the Christian value of goodness and elevates the meaning to conduct oneself with high moral standard.
In Defining Heathen Morality Lesson Five Part 1, I explained how Heathen morality and Christian morality might differ. This is largely due to understanding how virtue is expressed in the different worldviews. In The Elder Troth An Introductory Course of Study, KveldulfR Gundarsson explains why virtue in a Heathen context is not based on goodness but on reputation and troth:
In an orally based culture, reputation was the sole means of recognition and verification, and reputation was based to a large extent upon troth proven through deeds—someone who broke troth from dishonesty, or failed to uphold it through cowardice or weakness, had the reputation of a nithling and would not be trusted or honoured again.
A nithling is someone who has no honour. To be considered a nithling was extremely undesirable to our ancestors. The ability to survive was really dependent on one’s good standing in the community.
The Nine Atheling Thews
The virtues that Heathens, past and present, use to guide their personal lives are more fully understood as customs to live by, or thews. I mentioned the Nine Noble Virtues in the first part of this lesson and now I’ll expand on them via The Troth’s Thews.
Boldness, or bravery, is the action of not yielding to the existence of fear; finding a way to align oneself with courage to face any foe or fear within oneself as well as in the world outside. Bravery and courage are not always about facing foes and fears alone however. If seeking help or facing a foe together with others makes sense, then that too is aligning oneself with courage.
Truth has no grey area, just as there are no alternative facts in a situation. There is no personal truth that would differ from an actual truth. When looking at any situation honestly, it is important to remember to be honest with oneself first and foremost. One’s word is one’s reputation. If words are wasted with lies, deception or manipulation, then one’s reputation becomes useless. Honest information can be hard won but it is integral to one’s well being and the community.
A life lived honourably gives strength and durability to one’s words and actions. A life lived honourably means one has inner peace and wisdom to offer others when needed. To live honourably means to live in accordance with one’s own beliefs; it means to talk your talk and walk your walk. In other words don’t say one thing and do another. In the often quoted stanza 76 of the Havamal, the High One explains why to is so important to live honourably:
Cattle die, kinsmen die,
oneself dies just the same.
But words of glory never die
for the one who gets a good name.
Troth is practicing faith and showing loyalty towards one’s Gods, community, friends and family. In order to hold troth with others, we must know them, trust them, keep our word to them, share with them, and accept and extend help when there is need. Upholding the ways of our ancestors is an important way to show troth to them. This is why historical research is so important to the modern Heathen.
Self-rule is about being responsible for one’s words and actions. It is self-reliance and also self-discipline. It means deciding for oneself what is right and wrong, and taking the steps to determine what that is. Right and wrong in a Heathen morality are not absolutes. Right and wrong are what is best for one’s standing in the community, and the health and well-being of its members and of one’s self. To lose one’s temper or to blame another for one’s actions are considered dishonourable acts.
Guest-friendliness, or hospitality, is part of keeping troth with the community. Our ancestors lived in what we would consider today, a rugged wilderness. There were many dangers to travellers and welcoming a traveller or visitor with a meal or a bed for the night was considered respectable behaviour. Guests are also meant to be gracious and respectful and when possible offer a gift to the hosts in return for their hospitality.
Busyship, or otherwise to be industrious was a requirement for survival, but also a quality that earned respect. Hard work is required to achieve goals. Work, whether it be small or large, was and is always done with care and pride. Whatever one is able to do, it is worth doing and is valued by all. Havamal 71 tells us:
The lame can ride horses, the handless drive herds;
the deaf can fight and do well;
better blind than to be burnt:
no one has use for a corpse.
Free-standing is about self-reliance and freedom. We have free will. No one makes us do anything. We choose our actions, even if it means surrendering some of our free-will to benefit family or community. Honour always follows those who make their own way in the world. Havamal 36:
A home of one’s own is better, though small:
each mans’s a hero at home;
just two goats and a rough-roofed hall:
it’s still better than begging.
If life brings you lemons, as they say, make lemonade.
To be steadfast, is to persevere. Never give up. If you fall, stand again. If you fail, try again. If someone loses faith in you, don’t lose faith in yourself. If you commit to something, see it through to the end. Be your own hero and never give up on yourself, your family, or your community.
Let these thews guide you on your path. When faced with any difficult situation or choice, use them as a checklist to help you make the right decision. One of the reasons I was so sure Heathenry was the right path for me became clear as I read these thews. They are self-empowering in a world that is fraught with propaganda and manipulation.
Volundarkvida and Fafnismal in The Elder Edda: A Book of Viking Lore by Andy Orchard, Penguin, 2011
A Practical Heathen’s Guide to Asatru by Patricia M. Lafayllve, Ch 12, Llewellyn, 2013
The Elder Troth by KveldúlfR Hagan Gundarsson, Lesson 5, The Troth, 1996
Teutonic Religion by Kveldulf Gundarsson, Ch 1, 7, 9, Llewellyn, 1993
Our Troth: History and Lore, Vol.2, The Troth, Ch 1, 2, 3, 5, 24-28, Booksurge, 2006