Author’s Note: This is an op-ed piece written by Ryan Smith. It does not necessarily represent the views of Cara Freyasdaughter or HHH as a whole.
“Hail to the giver! a guest has come;
Where shall the stranger sit?”
Havamal 2, Bellows translation
The days we are living, without a doubt, are the sort that test the integrity of every Heathen. The true essence of all is being revealed as the crucible of conflict, testing values like honor and hospitality we all hold dear. In the past weeks this has been made clear through the Trump government’s forceful sundering of families on America’s southern border. All of this was made worse by reports of the cruel treatment inflicted on children by ICE agents and revelations one facility where detained children were forcibly drugged. Outrage, demonstrations and mass action forced a cosmetic change in policy which, while no longer separating families, mandates locking them up in camps indefinitely. Even this token gesture may not stand as now Trump is calling for denying all migrants the right to an immigration trial and deporting them even though this would be unconstitutional.
These shocking events, characterized by a cruelty many thought they would never see, have challenged consciences the world over. For Heathens we must question what, in these times, is the right thing to do. The Havamal, one of the most central sagas for determining Heathen ethics, provides clear guidance on this question beginning with the following verse:
“The lives of the brave and noble are best,
Sorrows they seldom feed;
But the coward fear of all things feels,
And gladly not the greedy gives”
Havamal 48, Bellows Translation
These words leave little question where this government’s actions stand. Those who are truly brave and noble people do not feed sorrow or suffering. They certainly wouldn’t withhold aid for those in need or let their fears of foreign people in need drive their reasoning. There is no possible way one could claim the actions of an administration whose agents are terrorizing children, breaking apart families, and even going so far as to tear infants from their mother’s breast, and herding the huddled masses into cages in hundred degree heat could possibly qualify as brave, noble or not feeding suffering. If anything, they are magnifying it exponentially.
Havamal 48 also challenges Heathens on our actions in this crisis. Those who praised in this verse are the brave. In this moment, when people are clearly suffering, bravery calls for facing our fears and confronting the cause however you can with word and deed. One cannot claim to be brave or noble by merely abstaining from causing harm. It is necessary to act on it as earlier words from the saga argue:
“The sluggard believes they shall live forever
If the fight they face not.
But age shall not grant them the gift of peace,
Though spears may spare them.”
Havamal 16, Bellows Translation
Moral outrage over the cruelty of these actions is reason enough to speak out. This crisis, however, has additional cause justified by Heathen philosophy to act. For Heathens hospitality is sacred and open to all without limitation. Heathen hospitality argues any who come to you in need of shelter and aid must be granted it. There are many verses in the Havamal detailing how guests should be treated by a good host with one best summarizing the spirit behind this generous virtue:
“Better a house, though a hut it be,
A man is master at home;
His heart is bleeding who needs must beg
When food he fain would have.”
Havamal 37, Bellows Translation
What is even more striking is when one peruses the Havamal there is not a single verse putting limits on who is worthy of hospitality. Nowhere does it say to deny food and bed to the foreigner, the stranger or the migrant. Not one word in the Sayings of the High One even suggests that any person is automatically unworthy of hospitality. Hospitality is for all and a virtuous host makes space for any guest in need of it.
There are some who may then argue, “But this is legal! What is happening is justified by the law!” Such shouts disregard deeper ethical challenges. Any law, whether through deliberate action or gross neglect, which causes so much suffering and forces people to act in direct violation of their morals, by action or inaction, is an unworthy law. One cannot claim to be a brave, honorable and hospitable person while standing idle in the face of such horrific deeds. There are more important things in Midgard than remaining silent in the face of sadistic decrees no matter how much seemingly holy writ they are cloaked in.
This leaves us with a simple question: what is to be done? On Saturday, June 30th people across the United States and potentially other parts of the world are rallying to demand an end to the camps, indefinite detentions and ICE’s cruelty. In the days and weeks following there will be more opportunities, whether those are contacting your elected representatives or participating in further mobilizations, to do your part. In every day before and after the 30th raise your voices, as Heathens, and speak out. Be informed. Reach out to members of all your communities and bring them together for the cause of common humanity. Even though there are many who seek to whip up a Wolf Age with words urging war of all against all we can overcome through greater unity of purpose. We must do all that our practice calls us to with bravery, honor and unflagging determination.
“If evil you see and evil you know
Speak out against it and give your enemies no peace.”
Havamal 127, Bellows Translation
About the author: Ryan Smith is a Co-founder of Heathens United Against Racism & has been an active Heathen for ten years. He has also been published on Patheos Pagans & Truthout. He is currently writing a book on modern Heathenry.