Ethics and Numbers
One of the challenges of this class is writing these journal entries. I have spent the last year or two studying mythology, linguistics, and history for a pagan clergy program, and I am required to submit essays and analysis throughout. I apologize if my focus tends to shift to subjects or angles not as pertinent to our goals as you might like, but I am finding it difficult to read this material without analyzing the mythology in the context of my previous studies (of course, I am going to get my backside handed to me during the Celtic mythology portion of the class. I am woefully ignorant in that subject.). I have also tried to keep my own religious views out of it as much as possible, but a few of the topics covered in the Havamal and some of the things we have discussed in class are just far too tempting. This is also sort of “what I do”, analyzing mythology makes me bounce like Tigger, so forgive me for my self-indulgence.
The repeated use of the numbers three and nine in Norse mythology are fascinating to me. Three is a number humans seem obsessed with in general, and nine is three squared, or a perfect set of threes. According to people in the “woo woo” world (pagans, new agers, hippies and the like) this makes nine the perfect representation of three. The use of nine in Norse mythology is very deliberate. Rarely does a specific number occur in Norse mythology that isn’t a nine or a three. The Nine Worlds, Odin’s nine days hanging on the tree, Heimdall’s nine mothers, etc. In most modern Heathen traditions, you are expected to strive for the nine virtues. These vary depending on the specific tradition, but they typically revolve around values like courage, truth, honor, loyalty, discipline, hospitality, self-reliance, industriousness, and perseverance. While the specific values might vary slightly, they are always drawn mostly from the Hávamál. Some of us further break these down into a triad of triads, linking things like courage and honor with discipline; truth and fidelity with hospitality; self-reliance and industriousness with perseverance. This breaks down the basic values of the Havamal into how you relate to your world, how you relate to your kindred, and how yourself. Ostensibly, this is the framework for how the modern Heathen should relate to the gods. I found it interesting that the class interpreted many lines in the Havamal as saying that “ignorance is bliss”. I have always seen those lines as saying that humility of intellect is what is important. No matter how much you know, you know nothing, and that is good. You don’t want to be burdened with the kind of knowledge Odin has. To know the unavoidable future is to despair. Life should always have a spoiler alert attached. That isn’t the same as ignorance being blissful, that is an admission to the failings of your own mortal flesh. It is better to live your life with dignity, courage, and loyalty to yourself, your family, and your kindred. This isn’t a guide to how to get into “heaven” or to spiritual enlightenment, it’s a survival guide to life in Norse society. In a society where people could and would kill each other over slights and discord most of us in the modern world would consider trivial, you had to have a strong code of honor and respect.
One of my favorite parts of the Havamal is the section where Odin describes his trials on the tree. Then again, who doesn’t love a grueling shamanic journey into the abyss in search of arcane knowledge? However, what this actually means is a mystery. Was this suffering for the purpose of revealing the art of divination? Language? Writing? Sacred symbols? Different scholars say different things. Personally, I think that it’s all of the above. Language is “magic”, it weaves our world and set events in motion. Words have power, regardless of whether or not you think that power is mystical in origin. Many of the guidelines laid out in the Havamal revolve around how we use words, how we communicate with others, how we interpret their words. This section is followed by the list of charms, many of which correspond to words that are as powerful and primal today as they were then; help, healing, death, shelter, glory, and love. Humans turn to magic for the same basic needs universally. Are the runes Odin struggled to retrieve the cipher to these universal needs?