28 June 2009

Prayer Beads, Week 8: Sif, Heimdall, Tyr

In the name of Sif, Lady Gold-Tressed, may I take pride in my own skill.
In the name of Heimdall, Guardian of the Rainbow Bridge, may I be able
to defend my own boundaries.
In the name of Tyr, Lord of Swords, may I walk with true honor in the world.


In the name of Sif, Lady Gold-Tressed, may I take pride in my own skill.

Sif is best known for the story of how she got her hair. In the story of Skáldskaparmál, Loki cut it off, then made nice by going on a quest to get the dwarves to make her new hair of gold and many of the treasures of the gods in the process.

One wonders how Loki got into a position to steal her hair in the first place, and there is a significant implication that she has taken at least one lover outside of Thor (in both Hárbarðsljóð and in Lokasenna). This, however, is a discussion for another time.

Almost nothing is known of her personally in existent lore, though a few people have taken stabs at it (some of it based on UPG, for example, there is a theory that Thor guards the perimeter and Sif makes the center clear and sacred). It may also be that she had an association to marriage: Her name is a cognate of the Old English word sib, which means affinity, connection, by marriage. The compound word byggja sifjar means to marry.

Pride is a much maligned feeling in modern society. The phrase pride cometh before the fall is almost totally ingrained in our society, and many if not most children have received--from some authority figure in their life--lectures about this villain called pride. Greek legends about the dangers of hubris are frequently required reading in school, and it is considered the root sin of the so-called Seven Deadly Sins.

Yet as the character of Mark Twain indicates in Disney's American Adventure in Epcot: Pride is a national passion and even those who overcome it are proud of their humility.

Yet pride doesn't necessarily have to be excessive, nor does it have to be combined with conceit, nor does it mean that your pride needs to be unjustified. To quote the usage notes from the New Oxford American Dictionary:

If you take pride in yourself or your accomplishments, it means that you believe in your own worth, merit, or superiority—whether or not that belief is justified (: she took pride in her accomplishments).


While no one wants to be accused of arrogance or egotism, there's a lot to be said for self-esteem, which may suggest undue pride but is more often used to describe a healthy belief in oneself and respect for one's worth as a person (: she suffered from low self-esteem).

So while excessive pride may be a problem, some pride in your accomplishments is a necessary component of self-esteem.


In the name of Heimdall, Guardian of the Rainbow Bridge, may I be able
to defend my own boundaries.

The guardian of the Bifrost Bridge which forms the link between Asgard and Midgard. He is known by many names, and is noted as the father of mankind (in a somewhat literal sense) according to some of the myths. He is a watcher and a guardian, and it is his job to sound the horn when Ragnarok comes.

Defending your boundaries in today's society means more than just keeping an eye on the door or installing an alarm system. It means being proactive with watching your own emotional boundaries and sense of self. It means not having boundaries that are blurred with those around you, and enforcing those boundaries within yourself and too others before it becomes a problem.

The danger here is of keeping too close an eye on one's boundaries. On keeping out even those things that are good, or seeing the world in black-and-white terms. Defense takes on this meaning as well, since it does you no good to keep things out if you starve while on the inside. Thus we can say that defending your boundaries means letting in what you need to be in and keeping out what you need to be out, whatever forms these things may take.


In the name of Tyr, Lord of Swords, may I walk with true honor in the world.

Týr is a lord of justice and a very old god of war. His name derives from the Proto-Germanic *Tiwaz, and is also the name of the rune ᛏ.

Týr er einhendr áss
ok ulfs leifar
ok hofa hilmir.
Mars tiggi.
Tyr is a one-handed god,
and leavings of the wolf
and prince of temples

It is Týr who offered his hand in payment for binding the Wolf Fenris with the cord Gleipnir (open one).

Honor is an interesting concept among Heathens. We don't really have a Code of Honor such as bushido (武士道), but it is clear that there was a sense of honor nonetheless. This shows up, for example, when Egil says to his band that they should go back and acquit themselves as true warriors that is based off of a code of honor.

This code appears to be centered, not on a sense of self, but on how one would be perceived by society. Swain Wodening wrote that:

Honor or ár therefore is as much about how one behaves as it is about how one is perceived. There are many ancient Germanic figures that achieve fame through victories in battle. The hero Starkaðr, while very well known, and spoken of in the ancient literature, did not know honor in his life. Indeed, he was often subject to shame. He definitely was well known, and had success in battle, but as he was often the antithesis of Germanic ideals on what a hero should be, he did not know honor. Starkaðr lacked certain qualities that the ancient Germanic Heathens deemed needed to fulfill the Germanic heroic ideal. In essence, he did not do the good deeds needed to win public approval, and did do deeds that won him the scorn of many. It is safe to say therefore, that ár cannot be simply translated as fame or renown. Starkaðr, after all was very well known, but not necessarily liked. A better translation would be “well known for a good name.” This concept is seen repeatedly in maxims in Béowulf and the Hávamál. One's good name was thought to be everything to the ancient Germanic Heathen.

Kaldera puts forth that there is another form of honor that is not dependent on the views of others called (in Old English) mægen, which literally translates to Strength. He defines it as follows:

While showing oneself to be a keeper of one's word is good for building public trust, the concept of maegen stresses that this is a power to be built even in isolation, and that it is not dependent on the opinions of others. The idea is that every time you give your word and keep it, you build up a fund of power behind your word that gives it more cosmic impact. In this way, the maegen supports the vili. One's maegen can often be sensed by others, and those with strong maegen will be instinctively trusted more by those who sense it. It's more than just reputation, it's an actual force attached to the soul that can be felt and used.

We see here something that is worth cultivating, both for oneself and for others and for which Týr, a god of justice, is ideally suited.

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