Miserly Attitudes in our Religious Communities

Today I was checking my Facebook and I came across this gem: “Notice to my friends-I will not be taking part in or hosting or organizing any [Pagan denomination name’s] rituals or [name of Heathen denomination]’s rituals until I start getting the things I have coming from the Gods and Goddesses. I have grown weary […]

via Our Communities Make Me Tired — Gangleri’s Grove

I am reblogging above a recent post by Galina over at her blog, and adding my own response to it below:

For most followers of the Northern Tradition upon learning about this path they read the myths about the Gods, and many tend to also study the Havamal. The Havamal is one of many sagas found in the Poetic Edda, and many of the stanzas are known as being a depository of advice as it applies to wanderers and guests when they travel abroad; it talks about what is proper behavior beyond one’s own homestead, and cautions the traveler to be wary so that he might eventually return to home having suffered no mischief or misfortune.


The Havamal is divided into sections:

    • Gestaþattrguidelines for the traveler, and the guest as it applies to hospitality
    • Women – romantic love and the nature of women; it also tells the story of how Odin seduces a giantess to obtain the mead of poetry
    • Loddfafnismal – morals, ethics, code of conduct
    • Runatal – relays the story of Odin learning the runes
    • Ljodatal – references a series of ‘charms’ or ‘spells’ while only one is explicitly connected to the runes, many believe since this follows the Runatal, that all the charms speak of spells one can use with the runes.

But a trend that has been alarming me of late, is that some are taking the Havamal as guidelines on how to religiously honor the Gods, the Ancestors, and the Vaettir.  The Havamal was NEVER intended to be used as a religious guideline on how to HONOR these numinous beings. One of the stanzas in particular being misused derives from the Havamal’s Runatal:

“Better ask for too little than offer too much,
like the gift should be the boon;
better not to send than to overspend.”

Those misusing this stanza are using it to state that while we should honor the Gods, we should not overly do so, that rather any offerings we make should be modest. This particular stanza comes from the section of the Havamal where Odin learns the runes hanging from the tree. It is important to note that this particular stanza which comes at the end of the Runatal has a different poetic structure than the previous stanzas in this section, so there’s a great deal of debate in academia about why this is. It is also important to note that some translations of the Havamal change up the order of the stanzas because the translators felt it made more sense ordered in other ways. So when you’re reading things don’t always take it at face value that you’re reading the text as it appears in the original source. But since this stanza does appear in the Runatal, it is most likely that this stanza is in particular referring to the runes. As true runemasters know, the runes have a certain level of sentience about them. There is a cost associated with learning them, and in using them. Odin hung, impaled on a tree for nine days and nine nights to learn them… They are not tools one idly picks up, or uses for frivolous purposes. The runes, much like a horse may turn barn shy with a new rider, have a reputation for testing those that use them and if they find the runester ineffective and unskilled may turn the casting back on them.

Of course it could also be likened to the type of advice offered earlier in the Havamal as found in the Gestaþattr or Loddfafnismal sections. If this advice was found in those sections, then it would refer more to exchanges of hospitality between a guest and a host, i.e. exchanges between people. After all, a guest shouldn’t gift greater than their host for two main reasons:

  1. it may embarrass the host among their community causing negative political repercussions both for the guest, and also for the host among their own people
  2. and because it could make you a target of envy for dishonest men who wish to steal your wealth away.

But since the Havamal when it offers advice of this nature is intended to be for people (specifically men in antiquity) as they travel among other living men… these ‘words of wisdom’ are irrelevant if used to codify the worship of the Gods & Goddesses, Ancestors, and Vaettir.

The mere notion that we could be overly generous in our offerings to THEM is ridiculous. The Gods and Goddesses, the Ancestors, and yes even the land Vaettir ALL make our very existence possible; without Them or Their blessings we wouldn’t exist at all. We can NEVER offer enough to make up for the very gift of existence They’ve bestowed upon us.

If we look to antiquity, we do see examples of major sacrifices in ancient rites and we can glean other practices in the daily bits of folkloric tradition that survived to more recent times. We also see an elite priesthood mentioned in Hrimskringla whose sole function was to serve the Gods, and we can see a variety of other persons in religious roles (magicoreligious, judicioreligious & politicoreligious) throughout the breadth of the lore for these cultures as well.

Now obviously the Gods, Ancestors and Vaettir understand that we may not have the financial means to bestow upon them great and tremendous gifts as part of our regular and daily practice… in these instances sharing what you can is still of vast import, even if it’s just a bite or two from your meal, or a swallow or two of whatever you have available to drink. Nor would our Ancestors probably thank us if we go bankrupt in giving them offerings; you still need to take care of the basics of life: food and drink, warm clothes, and good shelter. But we can honor Them not just with physical offerings, but also with heartfelt, sincere devotion—prayer and great thoughtfulness of Their impact on our lives.

But it’s impossible for us to ever be more generous than THEY when it comes to us bestowing gifts upon the Gods and Goddesses, the Ancestors, and the Vaettir.

So in a nutshell: stop approaching the Holy Powers with a miserly attitude.



Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s