History Witch: Uncovering Magical Antiquity

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Meditations on Hávamál, 15-18

More in this continuing series on the poem of gnomic wisdom from Old Norse: this entry focuses on courage and wisdom as well as how travel broadens the mind.

15.
Þagalt ok hugalt
skyli þjóðans barn
ok vígdjarft vera;
glaðr ok reifr
skyli gumna hverr,
unz sinn bíðr bana.

16.
Ósnjallr maðr
hyggsk munu ey lifa,
ef hann við víg varask;
en elli gefr
hánum engi frið,
þótt hánum geirar gefi.

17.
Kópir afglapi
er til kynnis kemr,
þylsk hann um eða þrumir;
allt er senn,
ef hann sylg of getr,
uppi er þá geð guma.

18.
Sá einn veit
er víða ratar
ok hefr fjölð of farit,
hverju geði
stýrir gumna hverr,
sá er vitandi er vits.

15. Silent and thoughtful the ruler's child should be and battle-bold. Glad and joyful should each of men be until he suffers his death.


When your life is ruled by wyrd there's nothing to fear. How your fate has been sorted the Norns know, for they have spun the thread, measured and will cut it. It is unknowable so if you are wise you will live each day as if it might be your last for the day will come that it is. If you are the ruler's child, the expectations are even higher that you will live up to these high standards and never fear or quail in the face of battle. This verse isn't just about acceptance, though. Be glad and joyful for every moment you are granted until the end. The gift must be treasured.


16. The cowardly man believes he will live forever if he is wary of battle; but age gives him no peace, even if spears do.

Following on the acceptance theme: you can't avoid your fate by avoiding what frightens you. Running from challenges leaves you weak and fretful. Most people regret not the mistakes they made in life but the things they failed to try due to fear. While caution is natural where danger can be found, we can be too easily cowed by fear.

17. The fool gapes when he comes to visit his friend; he mumbles or sits silent. Then all at once if he gets a drink (of mead/ale) and his sense is exhausted.


This theme returns again and again in Hávamál. The wild drinking stories in the sagas suggest this was a common occurrence too (though perhaps not as bad as in that infamous vomiting scene in Egil's saga). But if the only time you can speak up is when you're drunk, you need to work on your confidence levels. Find healthier ways to lower your inhibitions so you can speak your mind more often.

18. He alone knows who has roved widely and has fared far what sort of mind each man possesses, he who has his wits about him.

 Another recurring theme in the poem: travel broadens the mind and gives you wisdom. When you meet many people from different areas you begin to see more. You are not fooled by assumptions about national character but judge people on their own actions. If you continually throw yourself into new situations and have to find your way around, your mind expands, takes on new experiences, but also gains greater insight with each new bit of information. You listen more than you talk, you keep your wits about you and you will succeed.

 

Old Norse text courtesy of the Heimskringla wiki, translations my own.

Read earlier parts in this series.

Last modified on
K. A. Laity is an all-purpose writer, medievalist, journalist, Fulbrighter, social media maven for Broad Universe, and author of ROOK CHANT: COLLECTED WRITINGS ON WITCHCRAFT & PAGANISM, UNQUIET DREAMS, OWL STRETCHING, CHASTITY FLAME, PELZMANTEL, UNIKIRJA, and many more stories, essays, plays and short humour. Find out more at www.kalaity.com and find her on Facebook or Twitter.

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