Gnosis Diary: Life as a Heathen

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Asatru FAQ: Who is the Havamal For?

The Havamal or "Sayings of the High One" is a poem within the Poetic Edda. The High One is Odin, and the Sayings of the High One are said to be the words of Odin. A question that came up on the Asatru Facebook Forum I admin is, Who is the Havamal for? My answer:

The Havamal in general is for whoever wants it, but specific passages are specific advice for specific purposes. General advice: don't get too drunk at the assembly. Specific advice: IF you want to take something from an opponent THEN get out of bed and get it done. Some passages in the Havamal are literal if/ then statements, like BASIC computer code. They flow as binary logic: off, on, off. IF you want x, THEN do y. IF the "if" doesn't apply to you THEN you skip it.

What about passages like "knowest how to carve"? 

That passage is for those who wish to be rune magic users. The parts about rune magic are for those who want to use rune magic, that is, to be a vitki (witch,) and the parts about how to perform ritual are for those who want to perform ritual, that is, to be a godhi (priest.)

The title Havamal means Sayings of the High One. In heathenry, the Havamal is considered to be the words of Odin. Probably the various passages in the Havamal were inspired into various poets over the years and then collected later. Like the rest of the Eddas and most other literature-based heathen lore, the Havamal was heathen oral tradition that was written down by literate non-heathens. As such, even though the Havamal is considered to be the words of Odin, it's not considered an infallible holy book like the Bible. Also unlike the Bible, the advice of Odin to humanity in the Havamal is not commandments that one must follow in order to follow him, and he does not punish those who don't follow his advice, either in this life or the afterlife. There are natural consequences that occur to those who fail to follow general advice like "don't get too drunk at the assembly" that happen according to the laws of wyrd, also called karma or cause and effect, that do not require divine intervention to explain. 

In general the Havamal is for everybody who wants to follow Odin, but those specific passages are for people who want to learn certain professional skills. Most heathens in the old days didn't know runes or priestcraft, even the ones who followed Odin. And most ancient heathens didn't follow Odin in particular; he was one among many gods and not the most popular one among the general public. He has plenty of advice for humanity but it's about how you want to live your life, how to get what you want to live your best possible life as you envision it.

When considering whether a particular passage in the Havamal is for you, the important question is not "was this made for me?" but "do I want this?" Each of these passages centers the will of the person reading it, not the will of Odin himself. The Havamal isn't commandments, it's a store of wisdom for those who want it. 

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Erin Lale is the author of Asatru For Beginners. An updated, longer version of her book, Asatru: A Beginner's Guide to the Heathen Path, is coming in 2020 from Red Wheel / Weiser. Erin was sworn to Freya as Priestess in 1989, given to Sigyn, and is a Bride of Odin and his brothers (Honir, Lodhur, Loki.). She has been a freelance writer for about 30 years, was the editor and publisher of Berserkrgangr Magazine, is gythia of American Celebration Kindred, and admin/ owner of the Asatru Facebook Forum. In 2010 and 2013, she ran for public office. She is a dyer and fiber artist, was acquisitions editor at a small press for 5 years, created the Heathen Calendar 2017 and 2018, and founded the Heathen Visibility Project.

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