Nine Noble Virtues
(Written by Lewis Stead from the Raven Kindred's ritual book)
The Odinic Rite lists the 9 Noble Virtues as Courage, Truth, Honor,
Fidelity, Discipline, Hospitality, Industriousness, Self-Reliance, and
It would be hard to get much argument on any of these values from
anyone. They simply and briefly encapsulate the broad wisdom of our
Gods and ancestors.
In virtually every statement of values applied to Asatru, Courage is
listed first. As Stephen McNallen has said, courage and bravery are
perhaps the values which the Vikings are best known for. However,
despite our history, 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 difficultto lose ones hand for ones beliefsbut,
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 the Odinic Rite's 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 Bill Dwinnels said at a recent 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 Tthe 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
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.
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 ones 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 at its roots a folk
religion and we also uphold the value of fidelity to the ways of our
ancestors. 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 currently
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 nonfamilial 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.
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 put them aside for those who are of
our Folk, 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 the Ring of Troth, Wyrd
Network, or Asatru Alliance 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 bannedbetter 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 industrious 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
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 themand 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. 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 accomplishmentsespecially 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 strongnot 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.
Next: Dark Moon Ritual