Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Honor (quick count the spoons)

For this post I would like to deal with a touchy subject.


I am reminded of Samuel Johnson's comment on a certain dinner guest: "The more he spoke of honor, the faster I counted my spoons."

That attitude (the speaking of honor) is what makes this a touchy (contentious even) subject!

You cannot talk about honor and be honorable. Honor is actions, not words.

It’s also very misunderstood (VERY).

The dictionary definition of Honor at it’s most simple is:

Honesty, fairness, or integrity in one's beliefs and actions: a man of honor.

Now as per usual the dictionary does not convey the spirit of the idea. But that will do for a start.

Sadly the concept of honor has become convoluted, misunderstood, and reviled on a lot of levels.

During what some people would call the age of Chivalry, it became codified. This formalization led to a lot of the problems. Rules as opposed to a way of life mean there are loopholes. You could CLAIM to be honorable, while still being a dirty rotten scoundrel (sorry Mr. Martin).

The idea of an honor price also got perverted. Where it was SUPPOSED to be a deterrent for members of society from breaking the rules (the more important you were the more expensive it was) and not disposing of those who did the misdeed (because people are important in these cultures, they each play a role). It became an excuse for the rich and important to not follow the rules.

So over time you can see the word honor probably pissed people off. Add to that Duels and well yeah you get the idea.

So in the Warrior societies of the past what exactly did honor mean.

As you may have gathered I am most experienced with the Indo-European cultures, specifically the “Celtic” ones (and more specifically the Gaelic cultures).
In the Gaelic Culture, the traditional word equated with “honor” is oineach (derived via ainech back to old Irish enech) literally means face, and we can derive the terms “saving face” and “loosing face” from this idea. That study in linguistics was probably very enlightening but not explaining why I’ve used it?

ENECH (as will refer to it now) implied that ones “honor” was something that was derived from how one was seen in the community (the face you show the community).

There was a second term that would also be applicable herem, that is CLÙ. This term roughly translates to fame or reputation and derives from an Indo-European (IE) root word meaning “to hear.”

To the Warrior caste, the saving of face and having a good reputation was paramount. They would go to great lengths to undo a misdeed, to avenge an insult etc. In many ways “honor” was the check society had on the Warriors. Tales are told of Bards being able to depose a king with a simple satire.

So it can be seen in the pre-Christian (and early Christian) cultures of Eire, honor in a form meant a LOT to the Warrior caste.

Other cultures are replete with similar ideas, from the Samurai of Feudal Japan, to the Cheiftains of Pacific Islands.

How can honor be applied today?

Well while many people will point “sagely” at the Wiccan Rede. That is (a) For wiccans and not all pagans are that (b) a Guideline not a law and (c) Some cleaver souls have managed to amend it such that they can justify being none ‘redy”. The “amended” version that is fairly recent (sometime in the late 1980’s at the earliest) reads “Do as tho wilt, an it harm none. If it cause harm do as you must”. That last part basically says “if you see someone doing harm, act however you need to, to stop it.

This version is often quoted by those involved in witch wars (another post for another day), and those who are justifying their stance. Usually it’s quoted by weak leaders who are unsure of their position, and are thus resort to unethical stances. To me (as an outsider (non Wiccan) it is a cop out!

So back to honor.

The concept can be used as a way for a warrior to hold themselves in check. I define an action as honorable if it is “just”.

I ask myself before I take an action, is it earned? This applies to good as well as bad acts, a person who rewards someone who has not earned it is being just as UN just as someone who punishes an innocent!

If it is just, then you have to meter our the level of action.

Next you must ask is it lawful?

How will it reflect on myself (my enech and clu)

On my community (will what I do cause the media to have a circus over pagans?)

Finally would I proud if my family (or coven or whaever) saw me do this.’

Once you have done this, then you can act.

Of course this is still a contentious subject, because Pagans are one of the most, if not THEM most non conformist religions out there, thus they dislike rules being put down. This is only my thought I wish to share and I am not the honor polic, or the Pagan Police.


self_forged said...

What do you think about actions which one is proud of oneself, even though one's community disagrees?

For example, someone might be a defense lawyer for a person whom the rest of the community has decided to convict.

Noinden said...

It is a defense lawyers duty to do that job thus they should be proud of any good job that they do!

Chris said...

to me, honor and justice are two different, though somewhat related, concepts. justice (Irish cóir, from proto-Celtic ko-wero "in accordance with the truth") refers to the cosmic principle of rightness. when things are cóir, then they are in harmony with the natural state of the universe. honor (oineach, which, like clú, can also mean "reputation") refers to one's place in society. for a warrior, both are important, and it is the balancing of the two that is sometimes the difficult task of the warrior.

an advocate or lawyer has a different set of priorities, and cóir is the dominant principle there. his honor is still important, but what gives him honor is different in nature.

the warrior needs, as you mention in your posting on ethical considerations, to maintain honor because of the inherently disruptive nature of his (or her) occupation. it is only by carefully moderating that disruption in his actions, and proving to others that such disruption is not within his desires, that he can be accounted a part of society. this is the real purpose of codified honor systems like chivalry, bushido, or the instructions of Fionn to Mac Lugach. they aren't intended as prescriptive codes which can be interpreted and abused, but rather as exemplary descriptions of the sorts of actions which can bring lauds from the social body, and similarly what sorts of actions might bring censure. when that is forgotten, then those codes become strands of rules with loopholes which can be abused. the warrior who is seriously considering his spiritual pursuit would do well to remember that.

which is a long and convoluted way of saying that i agree.

Tomas Flannabhra said...

Absolutely wonderful entry, Noinden!

You hit the nail on its head.