By Mark Puryear
We of the Odinist faith strongly adhere to our virtues, we see them as a sacred creed respected by our ancestors, given to us by our gods and goddesses. Though we may differ here and there on exactly what the highest virtues are, which ones we should attend to most, we all seem to have general agreement on the core values of our faith. We all agree that oaths and vows are to be kept at all costs, that courage is preferred to cowardice, that honor is better than disgrace. I wonder then, how it came to be that one of the greatest virtues known to man, kindness, seems to be overlooked in most Odinist circles. That is not to say that Odinists are not kind, or that we look down on kindness, certainly not! What I am talking about is the actual promotion of kindness as a virtue within the community. When people look at our faith they generally see the strong emphasis on the warrior aspect, with the picture of the bold Nordic champion fighting for the cause of what is good and just. It is precisely for the full embodiment of this image that I feel that kindness is a virtue we need to put more focus on. Our ancestors were not the fierce savages some have made them out to be, but rather were part of an ongoing European legacy that developed concepts unknown elsewhere in the world of combat: chivalry, mercy, compassion, etc.
It may be that on a personal level many have turned away from the concepts of kindness because of a disdain for the faux ‘compassion” of hypocritical Semitic cults, whose “unconditional love” is anything but. Sometimes the cultures around us can leave a bad taste in one’s mouth, and in dealing with such issues it is hard not to have a bias. It might come across as asinine to try to convey a message of peace, when everywhere we see the same message manifested by monotheists with conflict and persecution. I have often found that in celebrating our faith, which is no doubt a cultural one, one has to retrain their mind, in a sense, to accept ideas as they are within the belief system itself, rather than the way we were brought up to perceive them. Kindness in Odinism would certainly be shown in a different way than in other faiths, for our morality is not theirs. We would be kind, but not foolish, compassionate, but not naive.
For the most part, I do believe that much of the reason kindness has been overlooked is due to erroneous interpretations of our lore. Because only certain, heavily Christianized documents are accepted by most as the end-all authorities on he Teutonic stories much of the true philosophy of Odinism isn’t known in the mainstream. At the very foundation of this is the highly misunderstood eschatology, where so many have been falsely led to believe that the only way to a joyous afterlife is to die in battle. In order for this to have actually been a part of the Odinic doctrine our ancestors would have had to have been the most warlike, bloodthirsty savages ever known, incapable of recognizing or caring about concepts of peace, which we know they had. All that would matter, for everyone, would be dying in battle, if this is the only way to nirvana, so we would have had an extremely suicidal civilization. Rydberg tells us:
“Doubtless it was for our ancestors a glorious prospect to be permitted to come to Odin after death, and a person who saw inevitable death before his eyes might comfort himself with the thought of soon seeing ‘the benches of Balder’s father decked for the feast’ (Ragnar’s Death-Song).. But it is no less certain from all of the evidences we have from the heathen time, that honorable life was preferred to honorable death, although between wars there was a chance of death from sickness. Under these circumstances, the mythical eschatology could not have made death from disease an insurmountable obstacle for warriors and heroes on their way to Valhalla. In the ancient records there is not the faintest allusion to such an idea. It is too absurd to have existed. It would have robbed Valhalla of many of Midgard’s most brilliant heroes, and it would have demanded from faithful believers that they should prefer death even with defeat to victory and life, since the latter was coupled with the possibility of death from disease. With such a view no army foes to battle, and no warlike race endowed with normal instincts has even entertained it and given it expression in their doctrine in regard to future life.”
Teutonic Mythology, ch.66
Furthermore, it isn’t only the warrior who makes it into blessed lands in the afterlife. Our eschatology is not without its Elysian fields, which our ancestors called Mel. Although it is not the scope of this essay to do so, it can be proven that Mel the goddess is not Loki’s daughter, but in fact is Urd, our goddess of Fate. Our ancestors believed that our gods go daily to the Thingstead near Urd’s fountain (Grimnismal 29,30) to judge the dead and see who will go to Mel or Valhalla and who will go to Nifelhel (see Teut. Myth. chs 69-71) . In order for a religion to have a morality there must be consequences for their transgression, or “sins” (a Germanic word, by the way); in order to face such consequences there must be a judgment. Because our gods make no claim on omnipotence or omniscience they rely upon the institution of law, founded upon the decrees of the Norns and Fate, the Thing. From this the gods determine if a person is worthy for Hel or Valhalla, or damned to Nifelhel.
“The gods judge human error and weakness leniently. According to their own teachings, they too have erred. The thing-goers may expect a favorable sentence if they went through life honestly, honorable, helpfully, and without the fear of death- if they observed reverence for the gods and their temples, for family duties, and for the dead. But lies, if they were intended to harm another, receive a lasting punishment; perjury, clandestine murder, violations of marriage, desecration of temples, grave robbing, treachery, and nithing deeds are punished with unspeakable horrors.
“Our Fathers” Godsaga, ch.38 page 145
We can take “nithing deeds” to mean acts of cruelty of villainy, which is how many dictionaries translate this. It is important to understand this to see that the opposite of cruelty, kindness, was certainly revered by our ancestors. But there is so much more to prove how important this virtue is to our faith. Beyond simply proving that Odinism expands beyond the warrior aspect and that, indeed, the warrior aspect itself is combined with elements of chivalry- mercy, compassion and kindness, there are many sources to look at to prove this point.
For the warrior aspect, the fact that Thor’s kind heart is shown to exceed his strength is a testament to the noble doctrine of.Odinist combat (see f.ex. Hymiskvida and Thor’s name Midgardsveor “The Friend of Midgard”, etc.). However, the greatest piece of evidence to place kindness at the top of the Odinist virtues is the image of the god Balder. He is the “liksamastr”, the most influential peacemaker (Prose Edda 90) and his son Forseti” settles all disputes” (Grimnersmal 15) . It is strange to me that Tyr, the god of war, is believed by some to be the god of the Thing. Although all gods are benevolent and kind, there really is not any other god more qualified to be the god of the Thing than Balder, and after him his son Forseti. They are the gods of peace and reconciliation and as such own the Thingstead of Asgard, Glitnir (first this was Balder’s home, now it is Forseti’s, Balder now resides in Breidablik in the Underworld with Nanna and Hod) . That Balder, the god of peace and reconciliation, the god of kindness and compassion, is the most beloved of all gods (see Gylfaginning) shows that his disposition is the most beloved of all as well.
In Gisla Saga Surssonar the hamingja (draumkona “dream-woman”) states: “Be not the first cause of a murder! excite not peaceful men against yourself!-promise me this, though charitable man! Aid the blind, scorn not the lame, and insult not a Tyr robbed of his hand!” The Havamal is rife with such comments; here are a couple: “The halt can ride on horseback, the one-handed drive cattle; the deaf, fight and be useful: to be blind is better than to be burnt: no one gets good from a corpse” (str.69) ‘A good man seek thou to gain as thy friend, and learn to make thyself loved’ (str.12l).
The gods would favour peace over war, benevolence over malice, and joy over despair. Even in war Odin tells us to be “joyous and liberal” until we meet our death (Hay. 13) and it is made clear throughout the lore that the kind heart is favoured over all and is a sure way to reach the fields of the blessed. Even though we would be warriors, for even Balder will fight when necessary, it is the search for peace and reconciliation that should motivate us, as is told in our most ancient records. Perhaps this may cause some to take another look at this important virtue.
Photo credit Evan Kirby