Monday, September 13, 2010

Strength in Asatru

In Heathenry being a strong person is a major part of living in a Tru fashion. Standing against the challenges of life on your own two feet is a major virtue in Asatru with examples of such strength extolled in the sagas. A superficial reading would imply that machismo and physical prowess are most important but this misses the point relying on the commonly held stereotype instead of the true meaning. Real strength comes in many forms with some being less obvious than others as is very well-illustrated in the Lore. Many forms of strength show up throughout the Eddas and the heroic sagas like Beowulf and the Volsungsaga. In Asatru strength is seen as having the skill and ability to accomplish a task or overcome an obstacle.

The most common association people make with strength is that of physical prowess. The might of Gods and heroes tearing things into bloody pieces is an image that is hard to forget. Warriors were praised for their strength at arms and in battle for overcoming many of their foes. Tales of glorious battles and tests of might are common throughout the lore and the historical sources of the period. A superficial reading might convince one that the real strength on display is their physical power. Yet in some of the best demonstrations of heroes bringing down their enemies in battle it is not the strength of the warrior the saga emphasizes but their bravery in facing the foe. Thor charges ahead gladly into battle against many giants throughout the lore without fear of what is ahead. Beowulf lies in wait for Grendel in Heriot unarmed and unarmored, not flinching even as he sees the great monster tear one of his friends limb from limb. In the lore, while strength is the obvious thing being praised even more highly honored is the courage of the warriors facing their foes in spite of great danger.

Another form of strength not as commonly associated with the North in the popular imagination but just as important as courage to the ancients is that of wit and wisdom. It is through cunning and skill that many great triumphs are gained for both heroes and Gods alike. Wayland Smith, instead of seeking a rash escape from his island prison, instead waits and uses the tools available to him to fashion a set of wings to escape as well as take a brutal revenge on his captors. Sigurd, instead of charging ahead heedless of danger against the dragon Fafnir, sets a trap to spear the great beast from below in a pit. As one of the best displays of wit and cunning we have the theft of the Mead of Poetry by Odin through guile, trickery, and magical prowess. Wise men were just as important in the North as mighty ones. The number of verses in the Havamal extolling the virtues of wise counsel and keeping silent are many with heroes following similar examples of carefully thinking their way through problems instead of just bashing their way through.

Strength is not just having a keen mind or a brave heart but also having the courage of conviction to do what must be done. Following through with a necessary duty, performing a needed sacrifice, and putting what one has on the line for a higher purpose is an important form of strength that appears fairly regularly. While this may seem the same as courage there is an important distinction. Putting oneself in dangerous situations, while certainly a great risk to one's self, does not carry the same certainty of necessary sacrifice. To steel one against certain doom takes a strength of heart just as great as what is needed to charge into uncertain confrontations. The most famous sacrifice of all was Odin hanging Himself from the World-Tree for nine days and nights to win the wisdom of the runes. A sacrifice of Himself to Himself, Odin gave all He had for the sake of greater wisdom. Tyr's sacrifice of His right hand to bind the Wolf Fenris until Rangarok is in the same vein. Given the choice between Midgard's Doom and the loss of His hand Tyr willingly placed what was His in the jaws of the Wolf knowing it was for a greater purpose. Beowulf showed similar strength in facing the dragon that ravaged his kingdom in the twilight of his life going into certain doom for the sake of the Geats. Often what drew the line between heroes, Gods, and everyone else was being willing to press on in spite of potential loss or danger.

All these forms of strength share one common tie: they are all deeds performed by the individual and these deeds are ultimately theirs to do. All of these acts of strength are done standing on one's two feet and facing danger directly, not seeking others to do the job for them. While there are examples showing there is nothing wrong with seeking assistance or aid in the pursuit of an objective, Beowulf after all takes his bodyguard with him when he faces the dragon, it is that you as a person do your own deeds that matters. The deeds done are what define the Gods and heroes, not just their strengths. Even in the face of certain loss or defeat like that the Gods face at Ragnarok They still shoulder on, knowing that win or lose what matters is doing what you must and not shirking one's duty or place to let another do what is yours to make happen.

Ultimately strength in Asatru is anything but one-dimensional. Being a strong person is not just a matter of having the might, which can take many forms, but it is also doing right. Strength without integrity is the bluster of a bully and coward. Strength with honor is what defines the hero just as much as their deeds. Being strong is not just a matter of bulging biceps but staying true to who you really are and applying your strengths effectively. It is in this that true might lies.

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