Cattle die, Kinsmen die
Cattle die, kindred die,
Every man is mortal:
But the good name never dies
Of one who has done well
Cattle die, kindred die,
Every man is mortal:
But I know one thing that never dies,
The glory of the great dead
These two verses from the poem Havamal tell us a great deal about the importance of living an honourable and productive life. It is quite different to the Judeao-Christian concept of one’s reward being in heaven. A person is remembered for his deeds.
“Cattle die, kindred die, every man is mortal”. Nothing in this world lasts – nothing is forever. But things don’t just end – they evolve and the purpose of religion is to help people evolve spiritually. This is the on-going cycle of birth, death and rebirth – but an upwards spiral of evolution – not an endless circle going round and round and getting no where.
A good name never dies. A person’s good name is remembered through history. Paradoxically so is a person’s bad name! People who have achieved great things are remembered for these. People who have lived exemplary lives are also remembered for these things. Their glory never dies. People with a bad name may be remembered – but they are not remembered with glory!
So these verses are more about how a person should live his life in this world and the sort of legacy an honourable person should leave behind. It does not suggest that these attributes are all that a person can look to after death in this world. As with so much else of our pre-Christian religion, the emphasis is very much on this world and life in it. Whilst life after death was believed in, people didn’t focus on it too much or try to second guess what would be in store for them.
Living a good life in this world was what counted – both in terms of leaving the right legacy behind and in terms of being sufficiently advanced spiritually to progress to higher states of existence in the next.
But what about the millions of unsung people who live good, decent and honourable lives but who were not famous enough to be remembered for posterity. What about those people who achieve good things in their lives but not to the point where they are remembered for it by society as a whole. Well, firstly, these lives will have helped them to advance spiritually to help them in the next world. These verses are telling us how we should live our lives, whether or not we are remembered for it. But there are millions of people who are remembered for their lives, even if it is just by their families or smaller groups of people with common interests.
Not only this, but the “glory of the great dead” is remembered even if all the individuals are not. This is why we should remember and honour our ancestors.
And there is another reason why we should honour our ancestors. The “glory of the great dead” can be seen as the sum total of what our ancestors leave behind. Advances in technology, medicine, art, spiritual insights and so on take place over a long period of time. They are the product of many people, over many generations making contributions – even if one or two people make particularly big contributions. Our collective contribution to our society and our folk is our legacy to it.
In this sense, these two verses are saying something quite profound to us. Something which has particular relevance to our lives in this world at this point in time. Because so much of our culture is dominated by a blind materialism; the pursuit of pleasure for the sake of pleasure. A seeming moral decadence. Too many people have little sense of purpose to their lives. They are merely automatons for the consumer society, robots blindly going about their lives without really thinking what its purpose is, what they hope to achieve or what they might leave behind them as a legacy. Many of our ancestors were too busy trying to survive to worry too much about such things. But our generation has little excuse.
These verses are telling us that a good life is one that leaves something behind it, one that achieves something however seemingly small. Not necessarily a famous act remembered for its individual glory. But a good life that has purpose and helps advance the individual and the folk – part of the “glory of the great dead”.
The EFC teaches that it is a person’s duty to lead fruitful, productive lives and to help the process of evolutionary advance of our folk. That way, they help their own spiritual evolution. This is the inner meaning of the Thor’s Hammer and the Fylfot – a constant spiral upwards towards a new Golden Age.
This is why Germanic Christianity is a warrior religion. It is one that strives to achieve, overcome the odds and leave a positive legacy behind.