Two Kinds of Sympathy

In a recent conversation on another post, a fellow Odinist was talking about stanza 71 of the Havamal, which reads, “The lame can ride horse, the handless drive cattle, the deaf one can fight and prevail, ’tis happier for the blind than for him on the bale-fire, but no man hath care for a corpse.”

He said that he thought it shows a certain sympathy toward the less than able-bodied, though with some of Odin’s trademark cold utilitarianism. I think he makes a good point, and wished to expand upon it in a post.

There are two kinds of sympathy. The most common kind, what most people mean when they say “sympathy,” seems the most warm and helpful type. It is full of easy assurances that everything will be alright, thoughts and prayers, and good vibes. The second kind of sympathy seems on the surface to be cold and even heartless. Odin has little of the first type of sympathy to give, that’s true. But that makes sense, because it’s the much less valuable kind. It’s all empty promises that the person showing this “sympathy” has no way to keep and reassurances they have no real reason to give. It’s nothing more than a palliative, the sort of sympathy you show to a child who does not have the capacity to understand what is going on.

The second kind of sympathy has real value. It offers real reasons for hope, a perspective that can teach you take comfort and find joy where you can, even if it is a cold comfort and a bittersweet joy. It offers real help for those in need. And this is part of why I am an Odinist. I see little value in superficially positive pablum, and Odin offers no comforting lies for children. What he does offer is something I can actually use to make my life better.

Some see Odin as a cold, calculating, heartless god. That view is rather far from the truth. Look at the Voluspa, which tells of the god learning of his impending death at Ragnarok. He does not do anything to escape his death, but he does try to fight to preserve something of the cosmos for others. He teaches. He inspires poets. He tries to lift people up, make them stronger, wiser, more capable. He helps those in desperate circumstances. Odin loves. He just does not express it in a way most people are familiar or comfortable with.