Nine Noble Truths: Fidelity
By Bernulf, originally posted here on February 27st, 2007.

The next virtue in my series on the Nine Noble Virtues in Heathenry is fidelity. For a short description, I wrote in my original article that the virtue of fidelity referred not to just being loyal, but to deserving loyalty one’s self, and further added that it was best when earned, and a curse when forced by deception or demand. This short description stresses merit in a big way, as I believe merit to be not just a virtue within itself, but the foundation for the virtue of fidelity….

Fidelity, although it is often used synonymously with loyalty, encompasses a pretty interesting range of concepts. Merriam-Webster’s Online Dictionary includes for fidelity the following definition:

fidelity: 1 a : the quality or state of being faithful b : accuracy in details : EXACTNESS

So fidelity isn’t just describing loyalty and sticking with friends and family through thick and thin, it can also describe a degree of precision or accuracy (it might help here to think of the term, High-Fidelity – often shortened to Hi-Fi). How do we get from family ties to electronic data reproduction, and how does merit figure into a Heathen’s hard drive?

The use of fidelity to describe data reproduction stems from a meaning of being true (or faithful) to the original. In this regard, High-Fidelity has become synonymous with high quality (or high end) – it’s something to think about when dealing with this virtue, the relationship between fidelity and quality. The original purpose of Hi-Fi was to produce a sense of realism in playback of recorded music and images (for more information, see High-Fidelity in Wikipedia). So just in the electronic sense of the word, fidelity, we have associations with faithfulness, quality, and realism (which implies a lack of distortion). How this ties into other concepts of fidelity should now be pretty obvious, just as it should also be obvious at this point how much we might take this sense of fidelity for granted – we expect faithfulness, quality and realism from our electronics, just as we expect these things from people around us in our families and communities. The difference is, when we find it lacking in the people around us, we can’t pull out the warranty papers and arrange for repair or exchange.

Faithfulness from a living sense is much more personal. Think about those to whom you consider yourself loyal: to what ends would you go, to stand by these people? How much of your self would you be willing to give? When looked at from that perspective, faithfulness really doesn’t get more personal than that; which is why it’s vital to be careful to whom one professes loyalty. This is one of those cases in which merit plays such an important role – if we profess our loyalty to just anyone who comes along, without them having merited our loyalty, what is our loyalty worth? Not much.

An example along these lines comes from the country in which I live. I’ve heard it said for a number of years, from a number of people from different countries, that in Germany it is hard to find a friend – but that once you find one, you’ve found a friend for life. In Germany, you don’t refer to just anyone with whom you’re on good terms as a friend – the words acquaintance and colleague are used here more commonly than I’ve heard them used in America, and given much more weight and consideration in daily social settings. Friend is ideally reserved for those with whom feelings of friendliness aren’t just casual. While my own experiences have shown me that this isn’t a hard-set rule in Germany (this country does have a divorce rate, and friendships do end), it’s still a tendency among many; and it’s a tendency I appreciate and endeavor to share in my own approach to friendship, as it seems to go hand-in-hand with my notion of fidelity.

The ancient notion of fidelity (in the sense of fealty) among the Germans was no less resolute – it was in fact one of the things the Roman historian, Cornelius Tacitus, felt was extraordinary enough about the Germans to write about in his Germania. Chapter seven has this to say about whom the Germans would give their fealty to:

In the choice of kings they are determined by the splendour of their race, in that of generals by their bravery. Neither is the power of their kings unbounded or arbitrary: and their generals procure obedience not so much by the force of their authority as by that of their example, when they appear enterprising and brave, when they signalise themselves by courage and prowess; and if they surpass all in admiration and pre-eminence, if they surpass all at the head of an army.

This boils back down to merit. More than a thousand years after Germania was given life by Tacitus, the Icelandic poem, Hávamál (stanza 42), provides us with another interesting thought on the idea of fidelity and merit among friends and foes:

With his friend a man should be friends ever,
and pay back gift for gift;
laughter for laughter he learn to give,
and eke lesing for lies.

The above stanza comes from the Hollander translation of the Eddas [1] – a slightly differently-worded translation is available here. Both translations convey the same point, though, this being that loyalty should be repaid with loyalty, and falsehood and enmity with anything but loyalty. As we can see, even a thousand years after the time of Tacitus, Heathens understood that loyalty belonged to the ones who deserved it. With all of this in mind, it can’t be said that our Heathen forebears were blindly loyal, without condition – something I consider a mark of intelligence as I think that it’s this mindset that separates the faithful from the fanatic. This is a degree of separation I prefer to keep in my own understanding of this virtue – for me, it’s the foundation for the balance between faithlessness and fanaticism.

To demand loyalty through force or deception is therefore a doomed endeavor: at the best one might achieve obedience, for a time; but as this writing should make clear, true fidelity doesn’t exist without merit. It also doesn’t exist without other virtues, as well (like courage and perseverance) – and a system of virtues, such as the Nine Noble Virtues, falls apart without the fidelity needed to apply them to one’s life with any consistency. The other eight virtues could exist (from time to time) in one’s life; but without fidelity, the other virtues would only be experienced as momentary events, rather than as an organized guide for applying an ethical approach to one’s life.

Fidelity is also pivotal for any faith path (as well as relationships built on faith in one another), evidenced perhaps most obviously by one of the words that defines it: faithful. From holding our faith with our gods, to holding faith with our spouses and friends, the virtue of fidelity describes not just a virtue, but a sacred, interactive and interdependent bond based on merit.

[1]  Hollander, Lee M, (1962, 2003), The Poetic Edda (p. 20), Austin, University of Texas Press


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