The Virtues of Wednesbury Shire
Over the years, there have been several attempts to consolidate in one list, the thews or virtues the ancient Germanic Heathens followed. This probably is not possible. The old religion never relied on such things as lists of thews. Instead these thews were implicit in their laws, maxims, and gnomic verses. Many of them can be seen in the “Hávamál” of the Elder Edda, and others in the sagas and tales such as the Sigurd lays. Still, others can be seen in the law codes of the time. Yet for the modern Heathen, such lists do come in handy.
The Various Lists of Thews
The most popular of the various lists of thews or thew related material is the Nine Noble Virtues. The Nine Noble Virtues have been around for at least 15 years, and few are certain as to who came up with the list. It is as follows:
Courage - Bravery or boldness, the ability to stand and fight in the face of any threat.
Truth - Honesty and the ability to standby what is true.
Honour - Reputation, renown. Your personal worth as well as that of your family's.
Fidelity - Troth or loyalty to those around you be that family, friends, or fellowship.
Discipline - Self control, the ability to be in command of one's own orlæg.
Hospitality - The ability to make a guest feel welcome.
Industriousness - The ability to work hard in maintaining one's self and family.
Self Reliance - The ability to rely on one's self without the aid of others.
Perseverance - Steadfastness, or the refusal to give up even when things are rough.
Many of the Nine Noble Virtues involve oneself. Few of the thews, listed in the Nine Noble Virtues, deal with community. Ásatrú at the time of the list's formulation was the only widespread Heathen religion, and at the time very much into the self reliant, independent Viking warrior image. With the rise of more tribal forms of Paganism, and a less romantic view of the ancient past, a need became apparent for a more community oriented list. The Nine Noble Virtues were and are a fine guide for how a Heathen should conduct themselves in everyday life, but seems to fall short when a true Heathen community is involved. Therefore, other lists evolved. One such list is The Twelve Æþeling Þews. These twelve thews were formulated about five years ago and first appeared in the work Beyond Good and Evil: Wyrd and Germanic Heathen Ethics. They are:
Boldness - Bravery, courage in the face of adversity.
Steadfastness - Tenacity, the refusal to give up.
Troth - Fealty, faith, fidelity. Loyalty to one's tribe, friends, and family.
Givefullness - Generosity, the ability to give to others at the appropriate times Gestening, Guestliness - Hospitality, or the ability to be kind with guests.
Sooth - Truth, the avoidance of lies.
Wrake - Justice, or the drive to always see the wrongs done one's tribe corrected.
Evenhead - Equality. The recognition that those of the opposite sex are equal.
Friendship- The ability to treat those that one calls friend as family.
Freedom - Self reliance and perseverance as well as responsibility for one's actions
Wisdom- Adherence to the ancient wisdom of our religion and the use of it in life.
Busyship/Workhardiness- Industriousness or the ability to work hard.
The Twelve Æþeling Þews came about at a time when Paganism was becoming more family and community oriented. It can be noted that the additional thews all relate to family or community, or the individual's obligations to both. A slightly older list of thews is one created by Garman Cyning of Theodish Belief. It is known as The Three Wynns. They are:
Wisdom - Adherence to the ancient wisdoms of our religion.
Worthmind - The maintenance of a personal sense of honour.
Wealthdeal - Generosity with one's family and friends.
Like the Twelve Æþeling Þews, The Three Wynns show there is a clear obligation to something other than oneself, and perhaps one of the most balanced (although the shortest) of the thew lists.
The most recent list of thews appears in Eric Wódening's book We
Are Our Deeds: The Elder Paganism Its Ethic and Thew. This list is even more community oriented than The Twelve Æþeling Þews, and thus reflects the ever changing face of Paganism. The thews listed are:
Bisignes - Industriousness Efnes - Equality, equal justice for all.
Ellen - Courage
Geférscipe - Community mindness, putting the good of the community above one's self.
Giefu - Generosity
Giestlíðness - Hospitality
Metgung - Moderation or self control.
Selfdóm - The ability to be an individual, true to one's self.
Sóð - Truth, Honesty.
Stedefæstnes - Steadfastness
Tréowð - Troth or loyalty.
Wísdóm - Wisdom
There are points of overlap among all of the lists. This does not mean the thews, the lists hold in common, are the most important.
It merely means they are the most often thought of. There are less obvious thews that appear not at all that are just as important.
Frith rarely appears on any such list due to its complex nature, and is usually handled alone in articles, yet no one would doubt its importance.
A Brief Look at the Thews Mentioned
As stated all of the lists have certain thews in common, and all fail to mention other thews such as frith. Therefore, frith will be covered first here, followed by a brief description of other important Heathen thews.
While now a very important part of Paganism, frith was barely ever mentioned prior to 1994. Then two articles, one by Eric Wódening and the other by Winifred Hodge detailed the ideas behind frith. Since then, it has become a very important part of Heathen life. Frith, roughly defined is "the maintenance of the peace, security, and refuge of the community; the peace and security enjoyed by that community." Frith is a far cry from meaning simply "peace, "the word most would use to define it. One can live under a despot with no freedom and have peace, yet one could not have frith. Similarly, one's tribe could be at war (not at peace), yet the local village be enjoying frith. Frith unlike peace is not the "lack of strife." War and feuds maybe used to enforce the frith or restore it when a threat comes from outside the frithstead, i.e. village, tribe, or family. When within a frithstead, other more peaceful means would be used, such as mediation and reconciliation. If those methods failed, then Thing could be resorted to.
The word frith derives from Indo-European *priyas, "one's own." Many other words derive from this root word such as Old English fréogan "to love," fréodom "freedom," and the name of the god Fréa. According to most Old English dictionaries, the word frith meant "peace, tranquillity, security, or refuge." It also referred to the special protection offered by the tribe and the penalty for breaching that protection. A verb form, frithian meant "to make peace with, cherish, guard, defend, or keep." Eric Wódening in his article "The Meaning of Frith" (Ásatrú Today, Dec., 1994) put forth that frith's original meaning was most likely "the peace enjoyed while among one's own (that is one’s family or tribe)."
Compound words made with frith reveal a wide array of meanings. Friðsumian “to reconcile,” friðhus “sanctuary,” friða “protector,” friðlic “mild, lenient,” friðscon “asylum, sanctuary,” friðowaru “protection.” Frith clearly did not translate literally into our modern word peace, but a concept far deeper. Its secondary meanings taken from compounds would seem to indicate elements meaning "to protect, defend, give asylum to, to reconcile." A brief look at the definitions of the compound words, as well as that of the word frith its self, reveals words such as peace, refuge, mild, lenient, cherish, protect, defend, asylum, sanctuary, and reconcile. All of these words have in common the idea of maintaining the peace, security, and refuge of the community. This maintenance would include ways to seek asylum, as well as chances for reconciliation.
This definition would also include maintenance of the law.
The ancient Heathens saw the law as the tribe itself, and frith was the ideal state of the tribe, its welfare so to speak. When the law was broken so was frith. Indeed, one could not enjoy the frith of the tribe unless one was a part of it. And one could not be kept out of the tribe once made a part of it unless they had broken the law.
While peace is a very sedate idea, frith is an active one.
Ár is the native Anglo-Saxon word for honour as is weorthmynd "worth mind." Both involve a sense of dignity, reverence, self and family worth...in essence, good self esteem and respect for others. Honour in short is respect for oneself, one's family, and one's tribe. To be dishonourable is to fail to respect others, be it one's family, or other members of the tribe. Dishonour can even result from failure to respect oneself. Heathen honour goes beyond adhering to some later day code of chivalry. For the individual it means respecting the wishes of others, not insulting their person or position. It involves a certain amount of compassion for the under privileged, and respect for those that have earned their status thru good deeds. Other words from the old tongues that mean honour refer to respect, glory, and achievement. One who does not do good deeds does not have much honour, and only those that attempts truly great deeds can be called truly honourable. These deeds will always be exceptional in commitment to the other thews.
The recognition and defence of one's own rights are a part of keeping one’s honour. Those that allow themselves to be ridiculed by others were not likely to survive long in the Migration Era.
Therefore, every Heathen had certain rights. No one could take the horse or sword of a free man, and one could always count on being able to take a dispute to Thing and see due process obeyed. These rights evolved into the "human rights" Americans and the English now enjoy. Beyond defending one’s own rights though, to be honourable meant also to defend the honour of others as well.
Dedication to sooth or the truth is a good part of honourable behaviour. Lies, rumours, hearsay can quickly destroy a tribe.
Often simply remaining silent is only a way to allow lies and hearsay to perpetuate themselves. Therefore, part of being honourable is to speak the truth when it is known, especially in the face of lies and hearsay, even if that means one is alone in trying to reveal what is sooth.
Another part of honour is troth, or loyalty to one's friends and family. To be in troth with one's family, friends, or lord/lady is not to betray them in even the slightest way. It goes beyond the normal aspects of honour, for troth makes their honour your own as well. Troth breached can always be restored, and it is never a one way street, but one must always remain true to one's own folk. Its sentiment can be seen in this passage from Hrólf Kraki's saga:
In foul winds as in fair--- Keep faith with your lord,
He who withheld no hoard for himself
But gave freely of gold and silver
Justice or vengeance for the wrong done one's family was also thought a part of honour. Ancient Paganism relied on the family for law enforcement. It was the family that defended its own, and often chastised its own.
Ellen, courage, bravery... all of these words are something all of us know, but yet find hard to define. Bravery is the ability to face potentially life threatening situations without regard for one's own personal safety, while accomplishing something for the good of another individual or individuals. Bravery is not the lack of fear.
Any veteran praised for his bravery in the face of insurmountable odds in battle will tell you, fear was always present. Bravery is the ability not to allow that fear to take control, and to accomplish what needs to be done regardless. Many passages in the lore demonstrate the Heathen belief in boldness such as Hávamál (passage 15)
Silent and attentive -- and battle bold should a chieftain's son be.
A man should be glad and happy, --- until defeated by death.
Such sentiment is further expressed in Fáfnismál (passage 29):
Ever the fearless --- but never the fearful
fares the better in a fight; 'tis better to be glad than in gloomy mood whether all is fair or foul.
Industriousness or the ability to work hard when there is need was not a thew or virtue to the ancients. It was a necessity of survival. In the harsh north with no modern technology one had to work when the weather was good to make sure the community survived the winter. Fields had to be tended, herds protected and maintained, wood cut for fuel, spinning and weaving had to be done for clothing. The lazy were likely to find themselves freezing or
starving come winter. Today, it is no less important that we work hard to maintain our families and ourselves.
Equality of the sexes, equality in the eyes of Heathen thew or law is something that our spiritual forbears passed down to modern America. Regardless of whether one was a lord or a churl, the same laws applied. Punishments may have been different based on the status of the victim, and laws differed on who need oath helpers in trial, but was a lord to kill another lord, his punishment was the same as if a churl were the murderer. Women were highly respected in the ancient era, and one would often find them taking care of farmsteads or advising kings and jarls. They were not treated as chattel or near slaves as in the Southern cultures.
Friendship is the ability to treat one's friends as family. This thew is actually a combination of a couple of others. Troth or loyalty plays a role, as does hospitality and guestliness. The Hávamál has perhaps more verses on friendship than any other subject.
Looking at the ancient sagas we can tell kings and warband leaders were known for how generous they were. Ring giver was a common kenning for "king." The Hávamál contains several verses on the importance of generosity, but particularly on the importance of sharing with friends.
Hospitality was almost a necessity of survival for the ancient traveller. Weather could turn bad, there were no inns in that day, and a warm place to sleep was a welcome sight. Hospitality ensured that the tribe’s individuals would survive. One knew, that by putting up for the night, that someday the favour would be returned.
Today with Heathens often far apart, and travel distances far, hospitality is just as important. The Hávamál (passage 135) has this to say about guestliness:
I give you rede Loddfafnir--- heed it well!
You will use it if you learn it, it will get you good if you understand it.
Do not abuse a guest--- or drive him out the door.
Instead do well for the wretched.
Heathens do not believe in sins of the flesh, yet the ancient Heathens clearly understood even too much of a good thing could be bad. The Hávamál warns against talking too much, drinking too much, eating too much, and even thinking you know more than you do. The point of all these verses is that one should try to do everything in moderation. Included in moderation is self control, the ability to, for example, stop drinking before one is made a fool, or worse yet becomes ill. Overindulgence in anything is not a good thing.
Community mindedness or the desire to be a part of a community was important to the early Heathens. The antisocial did not contribute to the survival of the tribe and therefore account for little in the greater scheme of things. This goes for groups as well as individuals. Groups and individuals that try to isolate themselves and do little for the rest of Paganism are likely to find themselves snubbed when they try to take advantage of the things the greater community provides such as teaching materials and gatherings.
After all, if they have not contributed to the survival of the greater community, why should they enjoy its benefits? Any community takes the mutual cooperation of all involved. For the ancients this mutual cooperation meant mutual survival, the tribe could not afford to defend a village that refused to help others in a time of need. It is not different today. We are a small religion, few in number, and prone to attacks from anything from Fundamentalists to Wiccans. National organisations may mean little to the local kindred, but the national organisations provide teaching materials, ordained priests, and organize the major gatherings...benefits most local kindreds enjoy. According to Neighbourliness, it is the duty of the local kindreds to return in some form, some of the help they have been given, even if indirectly.
Modern life can be as difficult as life was for the ancient Heathens. We have traded the daily hardships of physical survival for other hardships that cause stress, heart disease and other problems.
At the sometime, we have lost many of the simple pleasures such as living near friends and family that could make modern life more pleasurable. While the ancient Heathen had to worry about keeping enough food and wood on hand to keep the family fed and warm during the winter, we have a different set of problems relating to the same concerns. Commuting to work, problems with coworkers, illnesses, financial problems, all cause the same amount of stress for us as it did for the ancient Heathen. None the less, we as they must persevere, refuse to give up, and be steadfast in our work.
Knowledge of every kind was valued in the ancient era. To know the meaning of words, or a way to do something was highly prized. Wisdom consists of many things: folk wisdom and common sense, reasoning, and the willingness to learn. The lore shows over and over the quest for wisdom. Woden's self-sacrifice on the Irminsul was to gain knowledge, not power (but then, wisdom and knowledge lead to power). The drink from Mimer's Well was to gain wisdom, the ability to use knowledge, foresight and common sense.
Modern Heathens have many ways to seek wisdom. One can read scholarly works on the religion, discuss it with others, and seek out knowledgeable teachers.
There are as we are always told, even more thews than those covered here. However, ancient Paganism was an organic tribal religion. Such wisdom as the thews was not passed on in lists such as these but in tales like Beowulf, imparted in gnomic verses such as those of the “Hávamál” and “The Anglo-Saxon Maxims.” It is only through the study of these early sources of the lore that one can truly learn what it means to be a thewful Heathen.
Yet for one new to Paganism, these lists let them know what is expected of them and when.