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The Wanderer’s Havamal: Knowledge and Lessons from Odin

Although I, being a Christian, know Norse mythology to be false, I’ve always been drawn to it. When I was younger, I was fascinated by the tales of Odin, Thor, and the Viking lords found in the Eddas and Sagas. Ragnar Lothbrook, Leif Erikson, and Rollo were heroes whose tales have inspired countless young men to go out and do great things. The descendants of Vikings, from William the Conqueror to Robert Guiscard, conquered nation after nation, driven by culture and martial prowess to achieve great things.

Because of their accomplishments and bravery, I think it’s important to understand their mindset. Why were the Norse and Danes, especially before they were stopped by Alfred and converted by the priests, so bloodthirsty while also honorable and brilliant at warfare? What inspired them to be adventurers, pirates, and warriors, while also being accomplished explorers and generous lords?

It would be difficult for all of that to be contained in a many volumed work, let alone one short outtake from the Poetic Edda. Yet, to a large extent, that excerpt, famously called The Wanderer’s Havamal, does so.

The Wanderer’s Havamal, “is an Old Norse poem attributed to the god Óđin himself, and preserved together with other poems about the Norse gods and heroes in a collection called the Poetic Edda, written down in Iceland in ca. AD 1270.

It is “largely made up of stanzas that use pithy, concrete language to encourage wise and practical living, but also contains the only extant account of Óđin’s mysterious sacrifice of himself to himself, as well as an account of his magical capabilities” and “foremost among the poem’s values is its emphatic call for moderation—in drink, food, love, wisdom, and talk, among other pleasures—but never for abstinence from them.

Those calls for moderation, but not a call to shy away from what is pleasurable or beautiful, are important to remember and help explain the culture of the Vikings. A balanced life, lived according to principles and with an emphasis on virtue and awareness but without the ascetic lifestyle of a monk, helps also explain the European culture they created with their conquests and the passages on being a warrior and fighting honorably and bravely explain why those conquests were possible in the first place.

Some of the best stanzas, supposedly knowledge passed down from Odin himself, are these:

“A man is happy if he finds praise and wisdom within himself. Many men have received bad advice by trusting someone else.”

“A noble man should be silent, thoughtful, and bold in battle. But every man should also be cheerful and happy, till the inevitable day of death.”

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“Even cows know when they should go home and leave behind the fields, but an unwise man does not know the measure of his own appetite.”

“A fool stays awake all night worrying about everything. He’s fatigued when the morning comes, and his problems remain unsolved.”

“Never go even a single step without a weapon at your side; you never know when you might find yourself in need of a spear.”

“Be a friend to your friend, and repay each gift with a gift. Repay laughter with laughter, repay treachery with treachery.”

“Rise early, if you want to take another man’s property, or his life. A sleeping wolf seldom gets his meat, or a sleeping warrior a victory.”

“Men become friends when they can share their minds with one another. Anything is better than the company of liars: a real friend will disagree with you openly.”

“When you recognize evil, call it evil, and give your enemies no peace.”

Trust yourself. Be happy while fighting bravely. Don’t be a glutton. Don’t worry. Remain armed. Repay what is due, whether that be revenge or gifts. If you’re going to attempt a conquest, do it well and do it early. Speak openly, don’t be a liar or surround yourself with sycophants. Call evil evil and don’t appease it.

Is the embodiment of that advice not what made Western Civilization the greatest to ever be seen? Europe’s best and brightest lived by those words, even if they didn’t know they came from The Wanderer’s Havamal. Did the Founding Fathers not rely on that guidance, did our best leaders not live by it?

There are differences between our civilization and that of the Norse, of course. To say otherwise would be lunacy. But it is undeniable that the ancients were wise, perhaps far wiser than us. Their lives were lived on a knife’s edge. All that stood between them and painful oblivion was a thin line of civilization held together by wisdom and lessons such as is found in The Wanderer’s Havamal.

In our softer, more prosperous times we might not think much of advice about remaining armed always, being happy to die a noble death, or the importance of moderation. But they, being hard men living difficult lives, knew it to be of incredible import. We’d do well to remember the lessons passed to us from “Odin.”

Read The Wanderer’s Havamal. Not only does it explain the Vikings, it teaches you how to live a good life.

By: Gen Z Conservative