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Questions about Odin - Round 3 "A Matter of Pride"
I''m so glad readers are taking the time to post or email me their questions. I enjoy writing about Odin, and each question that i've received has given me a great deal of food for thought. I like that; I like engaging with anything that makes me think. Perhaps it's an Odinic trait, hmmm?
Over on my personal blog, http://krasskova.weebly.com/blog.html, Visons from Afar recently asked a question that caused me to sit back and really think for quite awhile before sitting down to type this out. Visons asks about pride, and how to differentiate between good and bad pride in one's engagement with the Holy Powers and this is a good question, not only because Heathenry puts a tremendous cachet on expressing pride for one's worthy deeds, but also because this is something that I'm willing to bet most of us have wrestled with at some point or another. I'm going to take a stab at answering it here and I encourage my readers to offer your own advice and insights here as well.
Visions from Afar asks: "Where is the line between pride (we're Norse, and we're expected to have pride in accomplishments and ourselves, right?), and disrespectful arrogance/impiety? I ask because more than once He's called me "quite rude"."
Well, part of me wants to be sarcastic and say that if a Deity is telling you you're too 'rude' then maybe you've crossed that line you mention, but I really do think this is an important question that you're asking. Pride is one of those somewhat ambivalent qualities that can be at once both a virtue and a vice. In some respects, I think it's a balancing act. Certainly there is a huge difference between being aware of one's skill and capacity for excellence vs. vanity and inflated ego.
Going back to the ancient philosophers, or one ancient philosopher in particular, Aristotle looked upon pride as a virtue, and connected it not only to nobility and generosity of spirit, but considered it it the natural outgrowth of a decent and good character.(1) He contrasted this with hubris, which actually means (in ancient Greek) wanton violence, but has come to mean overweening pride in the most negative sense, and with arrogance and rampant egotism.
I would take pains to point out that pride is a quality of mind, a state of being rather than an emotion. With the unhealthy way our culture fetishizes "feelings" i want to take the expression of pride, positive or negative, out of that morass of new age, self-help, overly psychologized foolishness. Pride is a state of being. It is that thing which defines how we engage with others in our world. Positive pride, in my opinion, goes beyond self-confidence, to an utter, unswerving, unapologetic (but accurate) assessment of one's skills, abilities, and accomplishments. It is a matter of knowing one's worth and being unwilling to be pushed into a position of doubt or apology for that worth. This in turn, for instance, allows one to remain unmoved by offense and by the poor behavior of others because it allows us to recognize that such things have little to do with us and everything to do with the person attacking us. It is what enables us to go about doing what it is that we are called to do despite opposition. It is what enables us to know when it's time to refer a client or call in an elder, because we are out of our league. It is what allows for comprehension that bowing one's head in respect, love, and piety before the Gods is a good and gracious thing. This kind of pride teaches us that we are not diminished by such actions.
Unhealthy pride is more along the lines of negative ego and arrogance. It does not rest in an accurate assessment of one's abilities and accomplishments but looks specifically to raise one above others, quite often finds offense everywhere, and cannot admit to anyone knowing more, being wiser, or to anything being greater than oneself. Whereas healthy pride, as Aristotle grasps, positions one in magnanimity of spirit, motivating one to help others, to encourage others, to rejoice in others' successes, negative pride does exactly the opposite. It is concerned with tearing others down and playing games of one-upmanship. One nourishes our relationships with others, with the world around us, with the Powers; one prevents us from having any relationships of integrity or commitment. C. S. Lewis put it well, when he wrote "as long as you are proud you cannot know God. A proud man is always looking down on things and people: and, of course, as long as you are looking down you cannot see something that is above you."(2) While Lewis was writing about Christianity, I would posit that the same holds true within any religion because in the end, when you're dealing with Gods, when you're engaging with the Holy Powers, whether we want to admit it or not, there is a hierarchy there and we are not at its top. That type of negative pride is a barrier to healthy communication rooted in openness, honesty, vulnerability ---all real communication involves vulnerability -- and integrity. That holds true whether one is talking about communicating with one's Gods, ancestors, or with the boy and/or girl next door.
When I sat down to write this, I first went to the dictionary to see how it defined pride. Merriam Webster offers as the first of many bullet points the following:
1. inordinate self esteem: conceit
2. a reasonable or justifiable self respect(3)
While not necessarily providing an answer to your question, this does clarify the two sides of this Janus-faced quality of being, with which we must wrestle. I would go so far as to say it is our reasonable and justified self-respect that prompts us to go to the Gods and to develop, establish, and maintain right relationship in the first place. I strongly believe that the Gods want us to understand and appreciate our value and our own worth. I also think those things are enhanced by being in right relationship with the Powers.
It's the negative pride that leads us into impiety (it's not the only thing that leads us there, but it's a big one), and out of right relationship. This is the pride that bellows 'i will not go down on my knees to anything not even a God." This is the pride that encourages us to stubbornly resist our Gods, that tells us we are the equals to or even better than our Gods, that abrogates service, dismisses service as a contemptuous state of being, and looks at ritual as a means to shine socially, personally, and to bolster their own fame. This is the pride that, at its worst, leads to spiritual narcissism.
Of course, between one extreme and the other there lies a gradation of states of being. I think that purely positive pride is something we work toward, a goal, a guide. The worst battles i've seen people fight have been with their negative egos, with that unhealthy pride that puts up blockage after blockage between them and the Gods, between them and something undeniably, indisputably bigger, grander, and more knowledgeable than themselves. I think it is this time of culturally and socially conditioned pride that lies behind the assertion in so many branches of Paganism that the Gods are only manifestations of our own minds, or archetypes (misusing that term, i might add), or that they don't exist at all. Then the ego is free to scream "me me me me" all it wants without ever having to worry that there might be someone or something out there capable of seeing beyond the arrogant facade.
So to answer your question, Visions from Afar, I think that line lies at the place where it negatively impacts your spiritual growth, your spiritual life, and your engagement with the Powers. If a God or Goddess is telling you or indicating in some way that you're "rude" then maybe it's time to step back and take note. If one's accomplishments and pride in one's accomplishments are getting in the way of doing the work the Gods want you to do in the spirit They want it done, then better to forego that pride. If one is thinking more with pride about what one has done and what one knows instead of buckling down and tackling the next project, the next task, then it's time to take note.
It's a dangerous thing, pride, even at its best because our society and the values we learn from it are not virtuous ones. they do not encourage us to develop the "right sort" or pride. in fact, they actively encourage its opposite. We are not taught or encouraged to know our proper place in the scheme of things. We're encouraged to overestimate, spit on our elders, and push ourselves forward with a sense of entitlement a mile wide. So we must be careful. Better to forego any pride at all than risk falling into hubris.
In the meantime, I would say call upon your ancestors and ask for their help and their guidance. They have a vested interest in your well being, most especially in your spiritual well being and they can and will help you there up to and including "schooling" you when you're about to fall into the worst sorts of pride. Good luck.
1. Aristotle Nichomachaean Ethics 4.3
2. C. S. Lewis 'Mere Christianity."
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