Wyrd Words: 10 Pieces of Practical Advice from the Hávamál

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

A reader recently asked me if it was possible to find meaning in the Heathen Lore without actively worshiping the Norse gods. He explained that he had converted to Judaism nearly ten years ago, but had always felt a special tie to his homeland (Norway) and to his ancestors there. He wasn’t really interested in changing religions, but he wanted to connect to that part of his history.

What parts of the Lore could a Jewish man connect with? What does the tradition offer that isn’t necessarily tied up in the gods? It’s not really something I had thought about before, but I knew just where to look!

 

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10- Proper Planning Prevents Piss-Poor Performance

We’ve all been in that place. The one where you know you SHOULD be planning your budget, or balancing your checkbook, but Netflix is calling your name! I mean, you’re pretty sure you’ve got things under control. You can TOTALLY wing it. Right?

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Now if you were reading the Lore instead of getting sucked into 8 unholy seasons of Dexter(*), you’d know that the Hávamál makes this point over and over again. Plan ahead, run the numbers, be prepared.

“A man should know how many logs
And strips of bark from the birch
To stock in autumn, that he may have enough
Wood for his winter fires.”

(Translated: Go balance your checkbook, or things are really going to suck for you later…)

9- Hakuna Matata

It’s 2 AM. You know you should be asleep, but you’re worried about finals. You studied, but what if you forget something important? You try to reassure yourself that everything is fine, but with every passing moment your treacherous brain regales you with stories of how everything could go wrong. It blows everything out of proportion in what I like to call the “SNOWBALL OF DOOM” effect.

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If I forget something important, it might end up being part of the Essay question! If I fail the Essay, I might fail the whole test! If I fail the test, I might not get credit for the class, and then I might not get my degree and I’ll never get a good JOB AND I’LL BE COLDANDALONE FOREVERANDEVERANDEVER AAAAAAAAHHHHHH!!!!

Turns out this isn’t even CLOSE to being a new phenomenon.

The witless man is awake all night,
Thinking of many things;
Care-worn he is, when the morning comes,
And his woe is just as it was.” 

(Translated: Worrying about tomorrow isn’t going to do anything but make you too tired to deal with tomorrow when it gets here. So take a chill pill and deal with it then)

8- It’s Not as Easy as It Looks.

I like to call this one the “As seen on TV” effect, and we’ve ALL done it at one time or another. You’re sitting at home on your favorite piece of overly plush furniture, watching Survivor, and somebody does something that seems REMARKABLY stupid. As you wince at their poor life choices, you can’t help but think, “I could have done that better.”(**) You revel in Schadenfreude and reassure yourself that you would never be that dumb. We do it all the time.

The blond in the horror flick reaches for the wrong door. “Not that one, you idiot!”

Your favorite player fumbles the ball. “C’mon! Even I could have caught that!”

Your friend is having a hard time opening the jar of mayo. “Dude, it’s not that hard!”

On some level, we usually realize that it’s probably more complicated than it seems, but by the time we think of that we’re usually stuck in a battle of wills between our dignity and a stubborn jar of mayo.

“An ignorant man thinks that all he knows,
When he sits by himself in a corner;
But never what answer to make he knows,
When others with questions come.”

(Translated: Everything seems easy from the comfort of your living room, or the descriptions from a book. Try actually going out and DOING it.)

7- There Is Always a Bigger Fish

This is the classic story from that grade-school movie. You know the one. The one where the kid with glasses, with his overweight/asthmatic friend, are confronted regularly by big bad bullies. Then they spend the whole movie figuring out how to get the better of the bigger kids, and eventually discover that the bullies are terrified of EVEN BIGGER BULLIES. You know, basically every schoolyard movie EVER.

This piece of advice is for that friend who’s always bragging about being a wicked awesome black-belt Tai Chi Master who nearly killed an MMA pro who flirted with his girlfriend that one time… You know the type, the guy who mysteriously forgets all of his deadly-fu the moment that 6’2 football player calls him on his BS.

“Moderate at council should a man be,
Not brutal and over bearing:
Among the bold the bully may find
Others more bold than he.”

(Translated: There is always somebody bigger, badder, and smarter than you are. A touch of humility goes a LONG way.)

6- People in Glass Houses…

You know those fantastically annoying people who always have to one-up everything anybody does? The ones who blame the world for all of their problems because it couldn’t possibly be their fault? Everything they do is the best, nothing is ever their fault, and they’re not happy unless they’re judging somebody.

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If you’ve honestly NEVER encountered one of these people (and probably fantasized about taking them down a rung and rubbing their noses in it), odds are you’re one of those these people.

Now if this person would just take a breath in between explaining how they should have won a Nobel Prize by now, and how badly you need an interior decorator, you could explain to them that the Hávamál has some great advice for them!

“A paltry man, and poor of mind
At all things ever mocks;
For never he knows what he ought to know,
That he is not free from faults.”

(Translated: Remember, your poop stinks just like everybody else’s. So how about you clean your own backyard before you complain about your neighbor’s. )

[To be continued!]

 

(*)- Guilty!! Don’t Judge me!!

(**)- Oh SOOOO guilty! I’m the guy who’s always shouting things like “How could you FORGET the coconut?!! You had ONE job!!” at my T.V.


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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/

  • rabbibjk

    There is wisdom to be found in virtually every tradition, and, while technology changes, human nature remains remarkably consistent from one generation to the next.

  • Tybult

    Do you have a preferred translation of the Eddas?

    • Alyxander M Folmer

      The thing about the Eddas is that many of the translations were made for different things. Some were meant to be more of a literal translation, others were meant to keep the spirit but still sound poetic.

      I tend to value the more literal translations, particularly when they explain their reasoning behind their interpretations.
      If you can find it, I would recommend Carolyne Larrington’s work. You’ll probably have to order an actual book online though.

      Another good option (in my opinion) is H.A. Bellows. You can find his Havamal HERE (http://heathengods.com/havamal/index.htm)

      • Lēoht “Sceadusawol” Steren

        Here’s a nice page with side-by-side comparative translations of Hávamál next to the original Icelandic:

        http://www.anomy.net/havamal/

        I have the Bellows translation on my bookshelf (and also the Orchard translation), but want to get others. I think that, if you don’t know the source language, multiple translations are good as they can be compared with each other to see how people interpret different words and phrases.

        • Alyxander M Folmer

          That’s an AWESOME link! Thanks for sharing!
          I agree completely, though my hope is to someday master the language.

          I’m currently studying “Viking Language” by Jesse L. Byock. If your into linguistics, I really recommend it!


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