No Joy in Bad Luck

The Havamal (the sayings of the High One) is one of the more important documents in the Asatru religion. It is presented as the words of a mysterious Lord of a Mead Hall (Odin) to an itinerant scop (musician/storyteller). Verse 128 (in many translations) advises us to never take joy from news about bad luck but always have joy in news about good luck. In the case of enemies, this would seem contradictory in some cases. What does this verse really mean?

It is obvious that you would not find joy when you hear that bad luck has stricken you and yours. This may seem less obvious when you consider that someone in your group may be part of a minor, internal rivalry. In such a case, their bad luck could affect the rest of the group, so it doesn't seem to be as joyful as it may have first seemed.

Then there is the larger issue when you have a real enemy. Is not their bad luck the same as your good luck? Shouldn't you be happy that their bad luck is good for you? I don't think "happy" is the state you should be looking for.

First, there is the issue that you should not be happy about having enemies. As allies of the Gods, we fight when the need arises, but we are to be agents of the dynamic balance between order and chaos. It is best that people not want to be your enemy because they respect you, trust you, and want to work together for the peace and prosperity of all. If you are fighting instead, you are not building.

Second, if you have enemies, you should be able to defeat them on your own instead of relying on their bad luck. You may suggest that their bad luck is just the work of the Gods in your favor. Do you really want to be so weak that the Gods have to intervene so blatantly on your behalf? Again, it may be convenient that the enemy has suffered their ill luck, but it is not good that you had to rely on that.

The third point is probably the more important one. We know that there are Nine Worlds and there are many Halls in those worlds where they dead may go. There is no cosmic assayer at the threshold like some religions claim. Instead, you go where your energies resonate the best. The common dead go to the halls of Hel to sit with the other common dead. The heroes go sit with the other heroes. The treacherous go sit with other venomous types. Those attached to their families stay with the family energy (kynfylga). Those attached to their land stay with their land.

When you hear of bad luck happening to someone, you can choose to feel pity or sympathy for them knowing that such ill luck could happen to anyone. Or you can choose to revel in their misery. What sort of person does that make you? What does that say about your character?

Again, you should feel bad that your enemy won't swing around to your way of thinking. You can feel bad that they cannot be a friend. You can feel bad that you will have to defeat them. You should never be the sort who finds joy in the suffering of others; that just changes the nature of who you are.

The following are some online versions of the Havamal: