Wyrd Words: 10 Pieces of Practical Advice from the Hávamál (Part 2)

Greetings, and welcome back to Wyrd Words. Keeping the Thor in Thursdays, every other week here on Agora!

This week, we will be continuing our incredibly deep and serious spiritual exploration of the Hávamál.

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5- Just Shut Up and Drink Your Mead.

You’re about to go to a feast, when a friend of yours asks to tag along for the ride. You figure, “Sure, why not? What’s the worst that can happen?” At first, everything is fine. You’ve settled in, had a few drinks, and you’re having a grand time flirting with that shieldmaiden who’s been giving you the eye all evening. Suddenly you realize that while you’re on drink three, your friend has apparently made it to double digits. Without any warning, the levees in his brain have buckled and opened the floodgates to a vast and unstoppable font of STUPID.

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I swear I don’t know him…

We all have that one friend who we’re occasionally just embarrassed to be associated with. But fear not! For the Hávamál tells us EXACTLY what advice to give to these friends.

A witless man,
when he meets with men,
Had best in silence abide;
For no one shall find
that nothing he knows,
If his mouth is not open too much.
-Hávamál stanza 27

(Translation: If you keep quiet, nobody will know that you have NO IDEA what you’re talking about. So just shut up and drink your mead!)


4- Respect “The Line.”

There’s a lot that can pass between friends without incident that would start fights in the wrong bar. When you know somebody well enough, you know what buttons you can press and how hard; chances are they know yours too. Unfortunately the addition of alcohol tends to make those buttons more sensitive than normal, while at the same time making it nearly impossible to avoid pushing them. The result is what I like to call the “OH SNAP Cycle of Escalation.”

In layman’s terms, the O.S.C.E. is a process by which two or more friends’ playful banter becomes unexpectedly antagonistic. As each party becomes more annoyed, their comments become more offensive, which further annoys the other party. This system usually continues to escalate until somebody “crosses the line” and says something so offensive that it simply can’t be topped by another quip; resulting in a climactic “Oh SNAP” moment.

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Friendly of mind | are many men,
Till feasting they mock at their friends;
To mankind a bane | must it ever be
When guests together strive.

-Hávamál stanza 32

(Translation, leave the quips and banter to less inebriated people. Many a friendship has been lost over drunken “Yo-Mama” comments, and nobody wants two of their buddies to have a boxing match in their living room.)


3- Real Friends Get Schadenfreude

There are many different kinds of “friend.” There’s the “Friend from work,” who helps pass the time, but that’s about it. There’s the “friend by extension,” who seems okay and you’re nice to them because they’re your friend’s friend. There’s the “Friend of the family,” the “friend with benefits,” and a massive variety of people ranging from “acquaintance” to “long lost twin.” So how do you know who your real friends are? Which one among your gaggle of associates is the person who will cover your rear and help you move a body (or twelve)?

Well, the Hávamál has got you covered! You know those friends who will totally call you on your BS and laugh when you do something stupid, but still help you out when you need it? Like that time in high school where you tried to impress your friends by swearing you could eat a raw habanero, so your friend bought you one. Then they handed you gallons of water laughed as you nearly CHOKED TO DEATH.*  Those are the keepers.

Affection is mutual when men can open
All their heart to each other:
He whose words are always fair
Is untrue and not to be trusted.

-Hávamál stanza 124

(Translation, ———–v)

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2- Don’t be the straggler

It’s 3A.M. and the party’s been over for half an hour. You’re halfheartedly cleaning up the debris, wanting nothing more than to crawl into your bed and sleep straight through Ragnarök. Unfortunately for you, there’s THAT GUY. Despite your best efforts to clarify that the party has concluded, and you need to be awake the next morning, this person seems content to remain on your couch and chat the rest of the night away. They may even offer to help with cleanup, adding guilt to the steadily accumulating awkwardness.

I sincerely believe that these folks have a special place reserved in Helheim right next to people who talk in movie theaters.** You don’t want to be rude and shove them out the door, but after the third failed “Okay buddy, it was great seeing you!”, there isn’t much choice. It’s a no-win situation that makes everybody involved feel like a schlemiel, and it’s a dilemma as old as time. (Or at least as old as houses!)

Forth shall one go, nor stay as a guest
In a single spot forever;
Love becomes loathing, if long one sits
By the hearth in another’s home.

-Hávamál stanza 35

(Translation, Don’t be THAT person. Seriously. Just don’t. Even Óðinn thinks it’s creepy.)


1- Where Did I Put My Pants?

So here we are, at last. You’re looking for the #1 BEST piece of advice from the Hávamál on how to party like a Viking. Well, take a seat, and let Old Óðinn One-Eye share some personal life experience.

Hávamál  stanzas 12-14:

Less good there lies, than most believe
In ale for mortal men;
For the more he drinks, the less does man
Of his mind the mastery hold.

Over beer the bird, of forgetfulness broods,
And steals the minds of men;
With the heron’s feathers, fettered I lay
And in Gunnloth’s house was held.

Drunk I was, I was dead-drunk,
When with Fjalar wise I was;
‘Tis the best of drinking, if back one brings
His wisdom with him home.


12- Beer has a way of making perfectly reasonable people do some remarkably DUMB things.

13- This one time, at Gunnloth’s house, I got so plastered that I could barely remember my own name. (Much less how to get home.)

14- It was probably FRIGGIN’ AWESOME, but it’s kind of a blur. It would have been better if I could actually remember it…

Later in the poem we discover that Óðinn basically spent three days drinking magic mead and sexing it up with a giantess. (Which seems like three days one would want to remember!)

The moral to this Heathen tale? The party’s no fun if you can’t at least remember enough of it to know where you put your pants!



*- We’ve all done that at least once. Right? … guys?… Oh…

**- 10 points if you caught that reference. 20 points if you can write the original line in the comments!


Message from the Editor!
Wyrd Words will be participating in the February “Pagan Tea Time” event!

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PAGAN TEA TIME: GET FACE TO FACE — If we want to build a strong Pagan intellectual culture, we need to know one another more deeply than words on a screen allow. During the month of February, consider speaking with a fellow writer or commenter face to face, in person or via video chat. (http://ow.ly/sL18Y)

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Alone In Her Presence: An Open Heart and a Naked Soul
Socially Responsible Magic: Why We Need to Have the Hard Conversations
Wyrd Words: Pagan Life Lessons – Strength
Alone In Her Presence: An Open Heart and a Naked Soul
About Alyxander Folmer

Alyxander Folmer is a student of Anthropology at ASU, focused on analyzing and building religious communities. He is a devoted Heathen, and married to a Rabbi in training. Interest in Pagan interfaith relations lead him to join the committee for the formation of the Pagan Chapter at the Foundation for Religious Diplomacy, where he hopes to utilize his training in community building and cultural exchange. The majority of his work can be located at http://www.heathenhof.com/

  • Ken

    Word to live by!

    • Alyxander M Folmer

      Pleased to be of service!

  • xJane

    Am loving this series! Great way to start a Thorsday. Are you familiar with the Hávamál modernization project? The “modern” version loses some of the lyricality of the translations, but you might be interested. Your translations above are the best I’ve seen!

    • Alyxander M Folmer

      I’m glad to see that there are people who share my sense of humor!
      I wasn’t familiar with that project, but that’s AWESOME! Thanks for sharing!

      • xJane

        Definitely enjoying this and glad that you’re taking part in the Agora. It’s hard to find good Heathen resources!

        • Alyxander M Folmer

          I like it here. It’s a great community!
          On a side note, I noticed that your avatar is Skaði. She’s actually the reason I came to Heathenry. She’s kind of my Patroness, so it’s nice to see others who like her as much as I do.
          (When people ask me about her, I often joke that she’s the goddess of Bad-assery) :)

          • Guest

            She was my introduction, too! Although I’m getting to know Frigg and Thor (and Syn and Ilm). I like “the goddess of bad-assery”, it’s a good title (not quite Öndurdis, but not bad ;)

          • xJane

            She was my introduction, too! Although I’m getting to know Frigg and Thor (and Syn and Ilm). I like “the goddess of bad-assery”, it’s a good title (not quite Öndurdis, but not bad ;)

            (sorry for the duplicates…still figuring out new Disqus…)

    • Thorrin Jonsson

      I agree the translations here are good! And this was an awesome article.

      But “modernization” of classical Poetry is a travesty more fitting to comedy than ancient wisdom and art.. Most translators that are rendering classical verse who use an “archaic” type style, aren’t doing so to make it sound more abstract and mystical; the original poems, in their original language, were written in such a style, as a part of their Heritage and Tradition (which, isn’t that what Heathenism is all about?..).

      If someone wants to tackle these magnificent pieces of Art (which is what they are, from the alliteration to the precise and poetic vocabulary, and else besides), it shouldn’t be too much to ask to spend an extra minute on a particularly tough stanza. If there’s anything so great we learn from Odin’s ventures, it is that Knowledge and Wisdom is earned, not handed over on a platter! lol.

      Thus as an example; there’s a reason also that wisdom is often hid in a riddle fashion: untangling a truth will drive it home much more profoundly than if just said plainly.

      Not to mention archaic-style language invokes authority and reverence, as far back as we can trace any poetry or ritualistic content of paganisms (especially European). Dedicating a little time to reading/studying such literature will clear away the difficulty pretty quickly and be replaced with an enjoyable appreciation; if one doesn’t have the small motivation to do that, should they really even be reading it?..

      No hard feelings — just sharing my opinion, though strong it may be.. ;)

      (and sorry if this comment was duplicated..)

      • Alyxander M Folmer

        One of the many reasons I so enjoy Carolyne Larrington’s translations (which were not the examples used above) is because they are so direct. Word choice is clearly explained and the poetry is written for meaning rather than sound.
        (not to say that more poetic translations are without value, I’m just a language nerd who likes more technical translations)

        The original language of the Havamal actually isn’t all that complicated. Unlike traditional Skaldic verse (like we often see in the Prose Edda or the Sagas) the Eddic style doesn’t make much use of elaborate kennings.

        One example Larrington gives for Skaldic kenning is the phrase “Battle-fish in the hawks perch”, which is a poetic way of saying “a sword in the hand”. Unlike many of the Sagas, the verses of the Havamal will mostly just flat out say “a sword in the hand”. So direct translations are often actually easier to understand then the more flowery verses made to sound like old English.

        Side note: Does anybody know where one can purchase a copy of the original codex? My goal (someday) is to be able to translate it myself.

        That’s a long ways off though, right now I can’t do much more than recite my family tree and explain that I’m not a land owning farmer. XD

        • xJane

          Awesome! Looking forward to the result! (Will keep an eye out for the codex.)

        • Thorrin Jonsson

          Well, they are definitely not Skaldic verses — but, still, likely wasn’t written in Conversational-Norse: it was a poem, they still had certain standards..
          Anyway….. I certainly should be able to find you the text ;) I found a great site a very long time ago from which I downloaded a ton of the ON texts in pdf format, just got to find it again

        • Thorrin Jonsson

          There’s a few out thereaq (seemingly hiding now..), but this is one I was able to find right away which I used to use, containing Bugge’s “Saemunder Edda”


      • xJane

        I absolutely agree—to an extent. Translations are always worse than originals (which is why it helps to speak multiple languages) but when translations are necessary, there’s nothing saying that they have to be translated into ye olde language-e. Seamus Heaney’s new Beowulf is a benefit to the language and to the original (and I don’t read actual Old English, so I’m grateful for it). Even the 1996 Romeo + Juliet has its place alongside the original.

        There are four major translations of the Hávamál, dating from the mid-1600s through 1936. A lot has changed in our world since 1936 and I maintain that the time is ripe for a new translation—one that seeks to maintain the poetic alliteration and sacredness of the teachings.

        Unfortunately, I am not the one to do it (at least, not until I learn Old Norse).

  • Mikal

    Get to practice number 5 in 2 hours (homemade brew). Or number 1 depending if it’s as strong as the last batch…

    • Alyxander M Folmer

      Hail! Here’s hoping it’s a good batch!
      I’ve always wanted to pick up Brewing, but I’ve never had the time or capital to get started.

      • Mikal

        It takes about 3 lbs of honey, an orange, some blackberries and some yeast. Definitely worth a gallon or so of liquid awesome.

        • xJane

          Oh man, actual mead, not just beer? Go you. A friend of mine makes mead and it’s delicious and strong. Hail to you and your craft!

          • Mikal

            Actual mead. Currently making another 5 gallon batch. :-)

  • Rebecca Hillstead

    “If you take sexual advantage of her, you’re going to burn in a very special level of hell. A level they reserve for child molesters and people who talk at the theater.”
    and for added enoyment
    “ooh, I’m goin’ to the special hell”

    • Alyxander M Folmer

      20 points to the lovely lady in the comments section! Plus an extra 10 for reading all the way to the end!
      Congratulations you win! :)

  • Alyxander M Folmer

    At 1200 shares and counting, this is now the most popular article I’ve ever written. Apparently I should stick to funny.

    • xJane

      Or maybe you should stick to sharing the Allfather’s words ;) I think it’s common for people to seek wisdom in traditional works but come up empty because of the ancient language-style,

      • Alyxander M Folmer

        Then I might just have to come back to this series someday. :)

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