I seem to have started a discussion in two places–a Facebook page I created to try to collect local Heathens, and on TheTroth.org mailing list–about what are called the Nine Noble Virtues. If I understand the modern lore history I have read the last several days, these were first promulgated by the Odinic Rite and adopted later by the Asatru Free Assembly. They are often criticized as a modern creation, but given the texts we have to work with what is not a modern (re)creation? I learned in a podcast that many Heathens look down on this code as inauthentic, and that it is more popular in the midwest and south.
I don’t recall where I first encountered this code–in one of the primers, perhaps, Lafayllve or Paxon, or else Thorsson; I think the latter–but it immediately resonated with me. I was at a stage in my life at which all my preexisting structures were toppled, and I am a person who functions best with some structure. I have Attention Deficit Disorder and Spectrum Disorder, the polite, diagnostic manual term for the milder form of manic depression. This means my energy level and my emotions can be all over the place (although much better of late with medication, a see-saw instead of an octopus-arm, snap-the-whip thrill ride, thank you). No shame in that. These are well documented medical disorders, just not as obvious as the heartbreak of psoriasis; unless, that is, you caught me at a bad time and were sucked into what I call a chess-timer conversation. If you wanted to be able to talk in this conversation, that is, then I would need to be limited by a chess timer; otherwise it would be all Marcus, all the time working on perfecting his circular breathing so he could get that digeridoo he’s heard is so good for sleep breathing disorders and all that in one breath, no time to interrupt and have a turn.
Whew! I feel a bit “up” just having typed that long sentence. The point of this confession is that my condition became much worse over the course of a year-long commitment to a job from hell. The hours were governed by two antipodal time zones: Eastern and China Standard Time. After six months of developing requirements we began doing business-end testing of the new software. It was a train wreck as delivered, but we were pushed toward artificial deadlines which would only be yanked back at the last minute, after a two week “dearth march” to release. I became sedentary because the time I used to exercise became precious sleep, sleep often disrupted by work worries because of my condition.
I stayed a year because I became exceptionally good friend with my business partner. I was a contractor; she was staff. When it was clearly time to bail, the decision was weather I was going to dump all of my work on a single mother of two small children, mid-career, never having worked anywhere else in her adult life. She couldn’t just pull the ejector seat, unhide the online resumes, and wait for the recruiters to call. We because so close I would consider her kindred, not a religious affiliation but by all means a blood-sister, for we it was all blood, sweat and tears and a lot of long-distance handholding of each other to make it as far as we did.
Let’s see, I think we’ve covered fidelity, industriousness and perseverance, and loyalty to one’s kindred. All this is hindsight, but these virtues clearly apply. The job, sadly, broke me: physically, emotionally and psychologically. Bailing on my partner was almost as hard as bailing on my marriage, which was on much shakier grounds by the time that decision was reached. It was emotionally wrenching. Physically, I had gained 30 pounds from inactivity in spite of a generally healthy diet. As a result, I was diagnosed as pre-diabetic. This is partly the weight but also a known “co-morbid disorder” (i.e., people with anxiety or spectrum disorder often become diabetic, or at least have blood sugar issues). This is largely stress, the psychological factor. And all of the combined stress greatly exacerbated my anxiety/spectrum disorder. What was previously diagnosed an anxiety disorder, an unpleasant tightness in the chest similar to a heart attack accompanied by feelings of panic, something I have managed most of my adult life, blossomed into something much worse.
So I find myself at the end of November, 2015 out of work and pretty much broken in mind, body and spirit.
When I approached the holidays stumbled upon Frau Holle, which eventually became the theme of the ex-voto shelf outside my house that doubles as The Shrine of Jazz and Heritage. I have a German neighbor who found it surprising and charming to find a figure from her childhood venerated on my ex-voto. When she asked about my shrine, I said something vague about, ” getting in touch with my German roots.” And as that door opened via the Internet, and Xmas/Yule, I was. Or rather, they were getting in touch with me. I went searching the pagan roots of Carnival for something to place on my ex-voto shrine and instead of the usual Greco-Roman stuff to which Carnival is commonly attributed I found Nerthus, pulled in her cart by a white bullock. Rather like the flower-draped white bullock figure that precedes the Rex parade every Mardi Gras Day. The door opened a bit wider, and I began exploring.
Clearly the mumbled remarks about getting in touch with my German roots held some weight. As a syncretic seeker universalist I had a altar but it was unfocused and, after the year from hell, rather dusty and disused. I was too busy bailing the lifeboat to do more than toss off a silent prayer to no one in particular for the strength to go on. As I began reading my way through the Internet on all things Heathen (sometimes manic episodes and the accompanying doggedness are a blessing, as it is this moment as I write). The more I read, the more I was attracted to this, the faith of my German ancestors. And then I stumbled across the Nine Noble Virtues. They resonated like the bowl bell the teacher sometimes strikes at the end of yoga: a profound, sustained note. I had health issues. I had issues with my children I needed to be a firm father to address when I could barely get myself out of bed in the morning. I had a house that had not been properly cleaned for months. (If you go through an entire box of Swiffers in a 10×14 kitchen, it’s time to buy a mop and bucket). Discipline. I needed discipline, and some outside structure to keep my ADD mind to it. I needed to recover the industriousness and perseverance of which I had been drained dry by the job. And as the AFA reinterprets hospitality, ” kinship is better than alienation.” I needed to rebond with and properly father my children who–while technically adults–both need some firm guidance at this time each in their own way. And that’s not just the AFA version of hospitality. It is also a form of fidelity, of faith in my children and the obligation fidelity also implies, the obligations to be a good father.
Nerthus and Frau Holle had some role to play, as did not doubt other deities who noticed me poking about in their lore and the vættir of my beloved oak grove, but it was that simple code which sunk the hook and landed me for Heathenism. Count it up as a form of personal gnosis. If that was the revelation that opened up the door to Heathenism, so be it. It obliges no one else to say the Mjollnir blessing you would find below a few posts back. That prayer matters immensely to me, speaking it as I don the hammer symbol of the God who among our fickle deities best exhibits many of the virtues is profound. I would not just be back from vacuuming and mopping (OK, Swiffering) if I did not have this reminder around my neck. I would probably be napping, to escape a few recent stressful events. And I cannot nap the rest of my life away. I have a life to rebuild, and to rebuild better: freed from the fetters of mortgage and tuition, free to follow the dictates of my heart and not my wallet. If you find the Virtues trite, or unfounded in the lore, or perhaps they smack too much of a sect you dislike, that’s fine. A rising tide only lifts the boats in that particular harbor, and mine was lifted by them as they no doubt have lifted many others.