This material was first presented as a series of lectures in Estel Sidhevair beginning on Nov. 5, 2008. These lectures weregeared to online community members of the “Fantasy Archipelago” in the Old Virtual grid and in particular to the Elf Circle Guardians who include the ethics of the Nine Virtues in their training to act as mentors and first responders to online trouble for the approximately 1500 members of Elf Circle (EC). Please note that the material is also presented with a distinct mythopoeic approach, basically written by and for creatures of fantasy. The original lecture transcript has been modified for a more general audience.
While the Nine Noble Virtues are drawn from Norse religious perspectives, this introduction and the nine lectures which follow also draw from other ethical and religious constructs from around the world including Celtic, Hellenic, and East Indian perspectives.
The original lectures were presented online on Wednesday nights at 8 PM with some breaks for various holidays. They were facilitated by the direct avatar interactions made possible via digital worlds. The lectures were all presented in the main conference area of the community center (Enedh Gwaith) on the virtual island of Estel Sidhevair.In some cases there were guest speakers, where appropriate their remarks are included with the main lectures. Each lecture was followed by a discussion section. These talks at times lasted far into the night, sometimes growing rather heated.
The 9 Virtues
The second virtue
In the Guardian Classes for Elf Circle, Truth is defined as “an acknowledgement, acceptance and promotion of what is.” Figuring out just what “is”, though, can be tricky. The English word truth is from Old English tríewþ, tréowþ, trýwþ, and the Middle English word trewþe, which is a cognate to the Old High German word triuwida, and the Old Norse word tryggð. All these words come from a Proto-Germanic word trewwj- “having good faith” and are tied to the old Norse trú, which relates to “faith, word of honour, and belief” and the archaic English word troth which refers to loyalty, honesty, and “good faith”.
In Ásatrú (Neo-Norse truth rooted in Pre-Abrahamic teachings), which is the origin of the currently adopted 9 virtues, the consideration of Truth emphasizes the importance of avoiding its interpretation through credulity--some unthinking blind faith.
In the list of the 9 Virtues…truth is preceded by courage. Why does courage come before truth? Perhaps partly because of the courage required in order to look truth in the face or to speak it. To be filled with Truth—truthful--means that when we open our mouths we should speak what is so, as we see and understand it, and that we should express what is on our minds. It is not surprising that at times this can be very difficult. It can anger people, or harm them, or cause us personal danger. And yet, we are reminded always by our own deep, internal voices that we must speak truth, and further that truth is somehow both divine and complete.
I mentioned last time that with scrutiny, the 9 virtues all weave together to form a tapestry of ethical guidance rather than a simple hierarchy of moral rules. Paying heed to where courage empowers fact and then following that path in service to the truth is one example of how the virtue of honor comes into play. Honor is the topic of next week’s lecture. It is interesting to consider the importance of a sort of “completeness of truth” in our enshrined ritual uses of language. For example, in ritual utterances devoted to justice, some cultures use repetitive phrases like “the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.” We say that three times in the ancient European fondness for magical repetition in triplets. The so-called “higher truth”, therefore, is not described as what we say when it is convenient, or when it benefits us personally, or when it serves our purposes.
We know intuitively that when we speak truth it must not be curtailed or altered. We also learn that there are exceptions. We learn that there are times when truth is best served by silence. We realize that an important skill involves learning how to evade probing questions in an honorable manner.
Truth, of course, is one of the central subjects in religions and in philosophy. In both, the discussion of the meaning and nature of truth has been ongoing for thousands of years. When we attempt to define truth we find that in general it is seen to emerge from and represent honesty, sincerity, and good will. By definition, truth should agree with fact and reality. And yet, interestingly, while it would seem to be obvious that fact and reality are objective…
…religions, philosophers and scholars do not agree on a single definition of Truth as a term. They continue to debate various theories or claims about the nature and meaning of Truth. They also often tend to lay claim to the sole, highest, best, or “real” Truth. There are many conflicting claims about the definition and identification of truth, as well as whether truth is absolute or subjective; objective or relative. Truth is deeply tied to belief. There is a wonderful quote on this from the Buddha who said:
“Do not believe in anything simply because you have heard it. Do not believe in anything simply because it is spoken and rumored by many. Do not believe in anything simply because it is found written in your religious books. Do not believe in anything merely on the authority of your teachers and elders. Do not believe in traditions because they have been handed down for many generations. But after observation and analysis, when you find that anything agrees with reason and is conducive to the good and benefit of one and all, then accept it and live up to it.”
To any culture or ethical structure that is not based upon a rigid legalistic approach, Truth, in the sense of honesty, is essential both to the society involved and to an individual member’s personal honor.
In societies dominated by a strong authoritarian approach, Truth is often secondary to obedience or compliance. There is, of course, a strong tie between truth and honesty. Where truth is the virtue, honesty is the quality of communicating and acting truthfully. This applies in listening and in speaking and requires stating facts and opinions as one actually believes them to be. This applies not only to communication with others but also to oneself. The concept of honesty applies to all that we do. We can’t refuse to consider factual information, for example, and still claim that our knowledge, belief, or position is an attempt to be truthful or is held in “good faith.” A willful blindness is clearly a product of what we might desire rather than our innate human ability to know. When we base our positions upon what we might prefer to be so — rather than evidence we have gathered — we become dishonest even if we claim to do this with the best of intentions. Honesty requires the avoidance of self-deception and a willingness to explore one’s internal motives and inner reality. Thomas Jefferson said that “Honesty is the first chapter of the book of wisdom.”
Returning to the European fondness to group things in threes: in Celtic thought, Wisdom is composed of the tapestry of Truth, Nature and Knowledge.
From the Trecheng Breth Fene (Irish triads):
“Tri caindle forosnat cach n’dorcha: Fir, aicned, ecna.”
(Three candles illuminate every darkness: truth, nature, and knowledge.)
The three aspects of the Gaelic view of wisdom as revealed in the Triad quoted above, are together opposed to darkness (in the sense of ignorance). This triad focuses upon Nature and the natural order, which is viewed as descriptive and never deceptive; Knowledge as it draws not only upon one’s past experience but also upon the gifts and voices of the ancestors; and most importantly to our discussion tonight, Gaelic wisdom focuses upon Truth. Truth is seen as a guide for personal responsibility and ethical conduct; as a sacred bond between family, clan and society; and always nested in the context of the relationships forged with the Gods, Spirits and Ancestors. Wisdom in this view requires us to consider the whole rather than the fragmentary. The Celtic philosopher is expected to use intellect to assess the facts encountered and to align behavior to an objective reality. There is no way to summarize in this evening’s brief examination of the topic of Truth all the many approaches to truth over the ages by adherents of philosophy and religion. Examinations of Truth and objective or subjective realities are as I mentioned ancient, global and ongoing.
My exclusion tonight of Plato, Nietzsche, Foucault, and countless other thinkers is, I imagine, not only easier for me but a relief for you. But I am going to cherry pick a few thinkers from the fluidity of time and speak briefly of Aristotle, Ibn Sena, Kant. Kierkgaard and Tolkien.
In Aristotle’s Metaphysics, he states:
“To say of what is that it is not, or of what is not that it is, is false while to say of what is that it is, and of what is not that it is not, is true.”
This seems sort of complexly obvious. Truth corresponds with fact to Aristotle and importantly, is communicated by the saying of it.
Hopping forward in time to the human’s medieval period, In the “Metaphysics of Healing” Ibn Sina (Avicenna) an early Islamic philosopher, defined truth much more simply as:
What corresponds in the mind to what is outside of it.
And yet, while seemingly simple, this correspondence between objective and subjective reality becomes problematic. It is here that the arguments really arise. For example, considering truth as revealed by perspectives like Ibn Sina’s simple definition, Immanuel Kant wrote that: Truth is said to consist in the agreement of knowledge with the object. According to this mere verbal definition, then, my knowledge, in order to be true, must agree with the object. Now, I can only compare the object with my knowledge by this means, namely, by taking knowledge of it. My knowledge, then, is to be verified by itself, which is far from being sufficient for truth.
Søren Kierkegaard, distinguished between the external and internal and emphasized the importance of the latter view. He distinguished between the facts of an individual’s existence— objective truths — and a person’s way of being — subjective truths. While he agrees that objective truths are relevant and essential to subjects like math, history and science, he points out that objective truths do not shed any light on a person's inner relationship to existence. He sees external factual truths as static, limiting and narrow insights which have little to do with an individual’s actual experience of life and meaning. While not denying the existence of objective truths; the ethics, values, and the virtues an individual espouses can only become truly known when they have been inwardly appropriated through subjective experience. Kierkegaard sees subjective truth as fluid, dynamic and something that is continually occurring.
These internal approaches to life and Truth are therefore perpetually in the process of becoming and are viewed as far more significant.
Fluidity in human thought tends to solidify. We can’t really delve into the meaning of this Noble virtue of Truth without considering its relationship to doctrine. Most religions adhere to a set of guidelines that are viewed collectively as truth. This may take the form of a creed or catechism, it may refer to a sacred book or body of work like the Torah, the Bible, or the Quran, or it may be an unwritten code shared by believers. Unlike scientific truth or observed truth, religious truth often makes the claim of being either revealed or inspired by God. Conflicting claims as to the Truth of these externalized sets of subjective insights have resulted in some of the more inspired and base actions in human history. The whole issue of groups being convinced as to the superiority of one set of doctrinal truths over another is an equally huge topic outside of the scope of a brief talk. So I will simply quote Richard J. Needham who remarked that:
“People who are brutally honest get more satisfaction out of the brutality than out of the honesty.”
And I will turn to the relationship between Truth and language, and particularly truth and fantasy which, to be in full disclosure, is close to religion for me. In exploring truth, we are led naturally to its connection with meaning, and therefore with language. In language, the truth is carried representationally by words and sentences. Truth or Falsehood is often found in the extent to which the meanings in language are believed to correctly represent the facts in the world. But we have seen already the complexity in the relationship between facts and objective or subjective truth. Therefore, to carry truth successfully, the language must be borne by people who are perceived to be believable. In fact, it is crucial to the virtue of truth that the carriers of Truth can be seen as Folk of integrity.
Truth bearers must be found to be honorable; they must be truthful to their word or oath and therefore trustworthy. This sort of truth and trustworthiness also reveals the truth bearer’s essential wholeness. They must be stable emotionally and present a sense of sound equanimity. Their actions should be seen as composed. Their manners and their general conduct should be orderly and grounded in reliability.They must speak "the truth". And yet, as Frank Lloyd Wright remarked:
“The truth is more important than the facts.”
So how do Truth, Myth and Fantasy interact? J. R. R. Tolkien remarked that “Legends and myths are largely made of ‘truth’, and indeed present aspects of truth that can only be received in this mode.” Not unlike Kierkegaard, Tolkien differentiates between external facts, which are purely physical, and truth, which is metaphysical. Tolkien invented a term known as Mythopoeia, the process of creating myths. In his poem of the same name written to C. S. Lewis (of Narnia fame) he wrote:
“ He sees no stars who does not see them first
of living silver made that sudden burst
to flame like flowers beneath the ancient song,
whose very echo after-music long
has since pursued. There is no firmament,
only a void, unless a jewelled tent
myth-woven and elf-patterned; and no earth,
unless the mother's womb whence all have birth.”
Myths typically involve the supernatural or aim to explain the nature of reality, or are allegorical illustrations of one or more “higher truths.” Both mythology and fantasy are narratives that convey both truth and wisdom. Often, at one time, and at least in the case of narrative myths, these tales were (or even are) believed to actually be both true and significant. Alternatively, these fictional tales may become true. ;-) A myth or a fairy story can shed light upon the deeply subjective truths of love and hate, loyalty and betrayal, selfishness and self-sacrifice, good and evil. Each of these dyads are metaphysical realities, each that is, are true, even while they are borne upon mythological or Faeryland carriers. Not all “true” literature must be populated by mundane “muggles” acting out the grand sagas or truths of our lives in “believable” worlds. There is a tremendous value in imagination, and in surrealism also, that conveys the higher truths Tolkien refers to in a manner that reaches the heart and touches it deeply. We creatures of Fantasy here, are living myth, fairytale, legend and truth.
Tolkien also wrote that:
“In making a myth, in practicing ‘mythopoeia’, and peopling the world with elves and dragons and goblins, a story-teller…is actually fulfilling God’s purpose, and reflecting a splintered fragment of the true light.”
So how do we realize the Noble Virtue of Truth in our Second Lives, in “role play”, in our roles as Shalear, or Faery Crossing Kindred, or as Guardians of Elf Circle? I would argue that we can serve that Noble Virtue by living integrity, honesty, and truth as it has always been manifested by creatures of Fantasy. In our interactions with one another, in our explorations of this ever shifting, fluid, and deeply Truthful World we can embody the mythopoeic beauties of Elf, Faery, Dragon, Hobbit, Dryad, Ent, Dwarf, Wizard, or Faelf and let *that* shine.
I believe that to honor and support Truth in the Lands of Fantasy we are best served by integrating the truth of our fantasy into our actions. We can look to the lessons of High Fantasy as our guides. We can remember that the actions of the least grand among us, the actions of a little Hobbit for example, are what can save the world. We can honor the lesson of Gandalf regarding mercy, pity, and restraint. We can not know what role each of us may play. Even a sorry griefer figure such as Gollum may play a part in surprising ways. We can walk gently on the paths of the Forests. If we bear powerful tools, the deep magic of the HUDs, links to Shiny Orbs of protection and exclusion, if we speak and stand for Fantasy…
…we can be cautious, merciful, show restraint, and always remember that power can easily corrupt.
While we may take our fantasy seriously, we must not take ourselves too seriously. We can not become too self-important. We can treat all our relations with utmost courtesy and respect. We can recognize the presence of the divine spark of Eru Ilúvatar in all creatures. We can not assume we are superior, more noble, more deserving than any other creatures of Fantasy. On that path lies the fate of the Nazgul. We can remember that the purpose of an Elf is to serve and protect Nature and all that emerges from the Creative Songs of the Valar. Similarly, the purpose of a Faery is to celebrate and enjoy Nature and add to the Creativity of the Lands. I was told once by Queen Zenspun Heron, a sprite-ly queen, who lives for all the world a light, floral, playful, mostly naked and “ditsy” approach to her Second Life, a deep and significant Truth.
She noted that each of us brings our Outworld Selves into our Avatars here and we Create for ourselves a reflection of our ‘First Lives’. No matter where we go, there we are. That is Truth. Ultimately, while we may respect other people’s truths, we must never forget our own personal quest for Truth. Like the Holy Grail it may never be ours to reach, but when we cease to search we perish.
Please read the about the virtue of Truth below and then follow the links in this section to read about the other virtues that comprise the Nine Noble Virtues.
The Nine Noble Virtues are Courage, Truth, Honor, Fidelity, Discipline, Hospitality, Industriousness, Self-Reliance, and Perseverance.
The 9 Virtues lecture series was presented originally by the Faelf who comprise the members and avatars of Westernesste and the Sidhevairs. The Sidhevairs are a non-profit arts and educational association which share a group tax exemption under 501(c)3 of the Internal Revenue Code as a chartered coordinating subordinate organization of Westernesste. Donations to us are tax deductible. You can learn learn more about our parent organization by visiting the Westernesste site. You can learn more about the organization of The Sidhevairs, see our EIN letter, our DUNS information, our charter, and our articles of association by clicking here.
About the Original Lecture Series