Friday, January 27, 2012

Havamal, Part 1

Blessings Darlings!

So, how does the Havamal start?  Like this:

Young and alone on a long road,
once I lost my way: 
Rich I felt when I found another;
Man rejoices in man,

A kind word need not cost much, 
The price of praise can be cheap:
With half a loaf and an empty cup
I found myself a friend,

Two wooden stakes stood on the plain,
On them I hung my clothes;
Draped in linen, they looked well born,
But, naked, I was a nobody.

Too early to many homes I came,
Too late, it seemed, to some:
The ale was finished or else un-brewed,
The unpopular cannon please,

Some would invite me to visit their homes,
But none thought I needed a meal,
As though I had eaten a whole joint,
Just before with a friend who had two.

We start the poem on the road.  Which  makes sense, since Odhinn would be talking to His people, not to Thor's people or Heartha's people, etc. (Thor's men, being working men, are more tied to the lands/fields of home.)  Being on the road means you have given up the comforts of home in search of something more.  It's not like doing this make you the equivalent of the 'superior man' in the I Ching, but it DOES speak of a certain amount of ambition or drive to better oneself and ones position in life.

Or, as we say in Ar nDraiocht Fein (ADF) - why not excellence?

And yet ....

There's clearly a difference between leaving one's comfort zone and being lost and alone.  Guides, companions ... humans were then, and still are now, tribal.  We may define tribe differently now, it can be family/kith/kin, neighbors/garth, religion based, politically based, economically based, whatever.  But no one does it totally alone.  Your tribe IS part of your riches.

Which leads, of course, to the issue of hospitality and how one treats strangers and travelers.  Not only could you be the stranger/traveler soon, but the stranger at your door could be Odhinn (or Zeus, or Hermes, or Macha, or Finn, or.... well, you Pagans get it).  True, being on the road now isn't a much a life-threatening challenge it was back in the day.

 Simple politeness is clearly the essence of hospitality.  Giving kind words, sharing half a loaf.

Then the 'don't mistake fine clothes for a fine person'.  Just as true now with fashion ad pricy clothes as it was then with linen vs. rough working folks clothes!

And don't mistake having fine clothes with being well-fed, either on the road or at home, actually.  Assume that others need care and feeding - offer food, drink, again, common courtesy.

Actually, this sort of brings up eating with your guests/business meetings/etc.  "Gosh we've run out of food' for you, or "we don't eat good food here, so have none to share" are old tricks.  Egyptians not eating with others is mentioned in the Bible, and now kashrut laws for Jews and Halal vs Haram food issues for Moslems, not to mention trying to offer hospitality to vegans or trying to account for food allergies, can really cause problems in offering hospitality.  Where do the responsibility of good host vs good guest get drawn?  Back then, it was just 'share what you have'.  Now - we smoke a damn fine pulled pork here, but it's sure not something I can offer my kosher relatives (some of which won't eat in my house at all).

Thus ends part 1 of our look at the Havamal.  More to come! This WILL take a while, and may or may not be a daily thing - depends on how life goes. After all, I still have recipes to share, and opinions on what's happening in the world to spout, too.

Frondly, Fern


  1. There's a Troth member doing a running translation of Havamal right now, so this is an interesting addendum to that set of readings. I like this extended interpretation, though. It will provide a good platform for thoughtful development.

    It's appropriate that such a document would begin with the evocation of the road, isn't it? It not only supplies the framing device of the wisdom-bearing traveler, but reminds you that each moment of awareness, of hospitality, is a moment on one's own road that, if not consciously walked, slips by under one's heels all too swiftly. Also that tales are never begun, never ended, but only heard now, at this place on the road.

    For me, hospitality has always been a simple and full sharing of what I have... which is not easy for me because I am, by nature, a very selfish person.

    I yearn for a good pulled pork recipe.

  2. can't wait for the next installment!

  3. The first stanza in the Hávamál is actually:

    Gáttir allar
    áðr gangi fram
    um skoðask skyli,
    um skyggnask skyli,
    því að óvíst er at vita
    hvar óvinir
    sitja á fleti fyrir.

    "At every doorway
    before you enter,
    you should look around,
    you should take a good look around,
    for you never know
    where your enemies
    might be seated within."
    (from my translation: )

    While you´ve provided actual quotes from the Hávamál, they´re strangely out of order. Which edition or translation of the text are you using?

  4. I'm using the translation most available online (rather than the Hollander which is more poetic), and order published from

  5. Oh, the Auden/Taylor translation. That one is really out of order; like some other British interpreters, they don't follow the order of the stanzas in the ON text but sort of reinterpret what order they should be in. No modern scholar endorses that kind of thing, and most other translations stick with the correct order (well, "correct" inasmuch as we have no business speculating that the Old Norse scribe got the order wrong).

  6. If other better translations are online and public domain, please let me know! I'm in the "anti-NDAA, but pro-author/translator copyright" crowd.

  7. The best one you can find online without copyright is Bellows ( . My translation (which you´re welcome to do with as you wish as long as you acknowledge me as the translator) is also available for free on my blog:

  8. Thanks! I'll look at both, but will finish this series with the version I've started rather than re-starting.