My Heathen Ethics

These are mine. Not necessarily anyone else’s.

With all of the negativity back and forth, I decided to talk about something constructive instead.

I don’t expect anyone else to have come to the same conclusions that I have. I’m sure we are all familiar with the neat lists of virtuous ideas that stampede around on various Heathen-centric websites. I like them, don’t get me wrong. They are, however, open to interpretation and don’t offer much in the way of actual guidance. Yes, use them if they work for you. If they don’t and you’re looking for something that might, feel free to evaluate my ideas for potential use. If you don’t like these either, feel free to keep looking. That’s how this works.

Various lists of virtues claim to be based on the behaviors demonstrated by figures in surviving sagas and folktales. This is all well and good- seriously, no sarcasm here. I simply prefer a different approach. I believe that those same demonstrated behaviors as well as the stated advice can be condensed into a few relatively simple statements:

  1.  What is good for my clan is good.
  2. Honoring the Powers is good.
  3. Honoring the land is good.

These are my foundation but they are- just like those lists- more complicated than they look. Let’s take them one at a time.

First, what is good for my clan is good. First major point that must be made, this is not as exclusionary as it sounds. Clan is not static. People do leave and people do become part from outside. These things happen. I think that they are both good things. Not every member of the clan is best suited by staying and the clan is not always well served by their continued presence. More importantly, people become part of the clan. This is a good thing when done right. New people bring new blood and new perspectives and new skills. The clan grows and is well served. You will note that I insist on using ‘person’ because it contains no qualifiers in itself. The proven worth of the person to the clan is the qualifier.

What serves my clan best is also not necessarily the greediest action. Despite thousands of years of humans treating violence as just another method of interaction, it is not necessarily the best option. We are from our ancestors but we are not our ancestors. We know now that cooperation between groups, including trade, tends to be more profitable and less dangerous. While I’m certainly up for defending physically if need be, I and most of mine prefer to be craftspeople and workers of our land. We prefer to work with the groups around us rather than be in conflict with them. It is good for the clan, thus it is good. This should never be mistaken for pacifism.

The second point is the one we seem to be rather hung up on at the moment. Honoring the Powers, for us, includes deities, local spirits, ancestors, and animal teacher spirits. No, the last one isn’t explicitly Heathen but we’ve run into far too many of them to discount their input. Honoring these Powers depends on the Power, the location, the time of year, what’s available and who’s involved. I refuse to tell anyone the right way to honor the Powers at work in their life. We hear about many methods in many different places and I am utterly convinced that sincerity is more important than anything else. I sincerely leave a bit of beer for the house wight on Thursday. I sincerely pour a measure of whatever I’m drinking for the land spirit because without it/them I would be lost. So on and so forth. To give honor is to recognize with respect, and we should do so sincerely. Beyond that, it’s between you and them.

I am, since it’s a major conversation going on online right now, not antagonistic toward most of the variously theistic people I’ve met over the years. I admit that I don’t really understand atheist paganism, but then I’ve never met one in person so haven’t had the chance to really have that conversation. Internet rants simply don’t count. I have met some archetypalists and some pantheists and some panentheists and a few mystics who admitted they didn’t have a clue but were along for the ride. I have felt comfortable sharing a space with all of these people because they were all trying to honor Power(s) in whatever way they understood it/them. They were sincere in their desire to recognize with respect. We got along splendidly.

The last point is also a fairly modern interpretation. We know that the concept of sacred land existed throughout ancient Europe, northern and otherwise. We don’t have a coherent picture of what that sacredness meant, how it was determined, or whether it extended beyond specific groves/fields/bogs/etc. It is probably fair to say that someone compiling a similar list fifty years ago, much less one hundred, would not have included the last point. But this is not one hundred years ago, or even fifty. Because of my particular awareness of the land spirits, honoring the land is the natural next step for me. I depend on my land for my food and sanity, and soon to be a large part of my income. Whether this is part of being good for my clan or honoring my Powers, I honor my land. I try not to overgraze, I don’t ask it to grow things it can’t, I keep my garden tended and my goats fed and cared for. I don’t use dangerous chemicals when other remedies are available. I am aware of what I am buying and recycle as much as possible- because all land is ultimately connected.

No, this list won’t work for everyone. It isn’t meant to. It works for me.


One thought on “My Heathen Ethics

  1. This…it’s simple, in a good way, quickly understandable and yet complex enough to actually be a framework that one could use to come to moral conclusions in a variety of situations. Bravo on this.

    Now if only I had a clan larger than two…at least it’s two instead of just one. The joy of being the outsiders.


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