Hjarðir þat vitu
nær þær heim skulu
ok ganga þá af grasi
en ósviðr maðr
síns um mál maga
Cattle know when they ought to go home,
and then they leave the pasture;
but the foolish man never figures
the measure of his own stomach.
(translation by Carolyne Larrington, Oxford World’s Classics)
When the Eddas were written down from the spoken word over 1 000 years ago, the culture of the time – the Viking culture – emphasised critical thinking, responsibility, honour and individualism. In this stanza, Odin warns again of the dangers of greed. The Havamal admonishes those that cannot take control of their lives and infers that they are no better than cattle. By using this comparison at that time, would have been a severe insult. Much as using the term ‘sheep’ does in our society. The inference made by Odin here is that greedy men who cannot control their appetites, cannot control other areas of their lives and are therefore easily manipulated. Their allegiance will wax and wane.
By taking this stanza into our daily lives, we need to pay heed of the High Ones words in all aspects of what we do, not just in what we consume but also in the tasks that we perform and what we do in our leisure time. If we spend our free time gaming, time is lost – time we cannot get back. If we spend our time watching television or on the computer, that is time lost when we could be playing with our children or spending time appreciating nature. By spending time in our jobs talking and skylarking around, our work falls behind and we lose face at not ‘pulling our weight’.
If you choose to live your life to the best of your abilities in line with the teachings of the Havamal, our belief is that we think for ourselves, we take responsibility for our actions and in particular those actions that will impact our kin and our community, we honour and respect those we lay our allegiance with but also remembering that we are each an individual, and therefore we need to shrug off the cloak of the herd and become our own person.
Hail! … Stormr