The Nine Noble Virtues – too short-sighted!

Nine Noble Virtues

In today’s pagan scene there are many things that are sold to the unsuspecting newcomer as the “Old Way” or “Old Values”, even though they have actually little or nothing to do with the ways of the ancients. A shining example of this are the so-called “Nine Noble Virtues”. This compression of the 164 Hávamál verses into just nine words is simply incomplete and reflects a very limited and one-sided view of the values of our ancestors. If you take a closer look at the Hávamál, you will find much more than just nine “virtues” or advice in it. So how did this selection come about and who is behind it? Why have we tried to break down the 164 verses with their elaborate content into just nine words at all? And why should this single interpretation have universal validity?

Probably it’s the need for a moral compass, as one is accustomed to from Christianity, that drives people to such simplifications. A similarity of the “Nine Noble Virtues” to the “Ten Commandments” cannot be denied, but this “substitute” lacks credibility because of the actual formulations in the Hávamál. There are no rules like”you may not”,”you shall not” or”you must”. No forms of imperative can be seen. Rather, a wise man (god of wisdom) gives advice for many common situations in life. Everyone is free to follow the advice – There’s no punishment if you choose not to. The “Odinic Rite” of the 1970s is assumed to be the author of this construct, since there are no earlier records of it; only slightly modified versions after the initial release, for example by the folkish “Asatru Folk Assembly”.

The “Nine Noble Virtues” are thus merely a very modern interpretation of the Hávamál by people of the “Odinic Rite”, who have chosen those “virtues” that fit their ideology best. Virtues such as “courage” and “loyalty”, for example, have made it into the “noble Nine”, while values such as caution, goodness, respect and restraint, which play a prominent role in many more verses, are not even mentioned. Moreover, “honour” as a virtue cannot be derived directly from the Hávamál verses. One could at best say that the one who acts upon this wisdom in its entirety has honour.

For a better overview of the complexity of the Hávamál, I tried to extract a “virtue” (better: “wisdom”) from each verse. Some things will seem far-fetched to some, while others think that one virtue or another appears twice under a different name. But that is a problem that I also have with the so-called “Nine Noble Virtues”: It is ultimately a personal interpretation that does not necessarily have to correspond to my reading nor does it have to have universal validity. I am not a heathen to have others spoon-feed me philosophical treasures like the Hávamál. The Odinic Rite establishes “independence” as one of the virtues and thus relieves others of an independent interpretation of the Hávamál. A contradiction in terms.

The following compilation is therefore only my subjective processing and interpretation and thus inevitably a generalization, which should clarify however, how multifaceted the Hávamál actually is. Ultimately, the wisdoms must always be viewed in the context of their respective verses. I have not derived any virtues from the verses 138 to 163, for they contain Odin’s Rúnatal and a collection of charms (or more precisely: their announcements). The last verse 164 however, was it worth to me to write it out in full.

Wisdoms from the Hávamál – “The Sayings of the High One”

VirtuesVerseCount
Mindfulness1,72
Hospitality2,3,4,67,1355
Wit5,107,1283
Cautiousness6,24,25,100,101,102,1317
Integrity8,772
Self-reliance9,1262
Frugalness101
Soberness11,12,13,144
Reticence15,62,65,804
Courage16,48,1063
Moderation17,63,112,1254
Knowledge of Human Nature18,1332
Temperance19,20,213
Judiciousness22,902
Prudence231
Modesty26,78,793
Eloquence27,28,29,1044
Benevolence301
Respectfulness31,75,115,132,1345
Amity32,119,120,1214
Chastity331
Loyalty34,43,723
Gratitude35,105,1083
Independence36,37,113,1144
Willingness38,742
Graciousness39,49,52,127,1365
Thoughtfulness401
Generosity41,922
Reciprocality421
Trust44,1102
Suspiciousness45,84,85,86,87,88,89,90,117,118,122,123,12413
Retribution461
Sociability471
Kindness50,66,943
Truthfulness51,68,1303
Sympathy53,73,93,96,97,1116
Inquisitiveness54,55,56,574
Industriousness58,59,603
Self-confidence61,64,953
Contentedness69,70,71,834
Reputation761
Leniency81,1092
Punctuality82,982
Confidence991
Righteousness1031
Forehandedness1161
Purposefulness1291
Appreciation of Nature1371

The final verse 164 (Auden/Taylor translation):

The Wise One has spoken words in the hall,
Needful for men to know,
Unneedful for trolls to know:
Hail to the speaker,
Hail to the knower,
Joy to him who has understood,
Delight to those who have listened.

 

I make no claim to universality or completeness.

Damian Kirchdörfer

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