Posted by: nicanthiel | April 21, 2009

Ethics 3: Ellen

Ellen is a curious théow, in that it is derived from the name of the goddess of the virtue it embodies rather than actual lexical composition. The Saxon goddess Ellen (quite probably the same as the Dutch/Frisian/Belgic Nehellenia) is the personification of Courage (the definition of ellen from the Old English Dictionary is: “zeal, strength, power, vigor, valor, courage, fortitude; strife, contention”; also, interestingly, “elder-tree”*).

Courage is greatly talked about in Heathen circles, usually by the same type of people that emphasise the external version of “honor” that I talked about previously. As such, it is no wonder that the conception of courage as espoused by those people falls somewhat flat.

Generally, the mainstream conception of courage is based strictly on the last two definitions: strife, and contention. Thus, courage becomes a purely battle-based virtue, and anyone need only look at the excessive belligerence of many Kindreds and groups to see how and why that becomes a problem, especially when combined with the conception of external honor.

However, courage, with the full definition, is a much greater and expansive virtue. The first four definitions speak of active force or vitality – zeal for the defense and pursuit of values; the strength of mind, body and character to live against the flow when that flow leads only to dishonorable and corrupted actions and pursuits; the power of reputation, of eloquence and mægen, of personality to be an example in dark times to those who are trying to find their way; and the vigor of integrity, right action, and a life well-lived.

The next three definitions speak also of force and vitality, but where the first four were outward and offensive, these three are inward and defensive. Valor is a virtue that can only be accessed by the truly honorable, because it requires great strength of character and self-knowledge, which those who focus solely on the outward rarely have. Likewise, courage is dependent on good judgment and the ability to be clear-headed in the midst of heated and dangerous situations; it is also dependent on knowing and facing your fears and shadow sides, for courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the refusal to give into it. And lastly, fortitude is a concept well-known to any gamer as the strength and force of the individual-as-a-whole; in this sense, fortitude is the end result of all the other definitions and conceptions of what ellen really is – strength, power, and vigor of body, mind, soul, and character that enables people to face their fears and shadows, to make sound judgments in unsound and emotion-driven situations, and to fight for and defend those things they hold dear with no quarter.

That is being courageous.


*Old English Made Easy: Dictionaries



  1. Good post, as usual.

    …I would say more, but I’m kind of tired today. So, just, good post. Ellen is one of my favorites 😉


  2. I’m not sure that the cognate nature of Ellen and Nehalennia is as well-established as that…Nehalennia is, in many respects, a female version of Manannán, at least functionally…and the linguistics don’t quite work out, as far as I can tell, for “cognate” to be stated…

    However, it’s still a good post!

    • I do admit, that was an assumption on my part given the similarity (I hardly speak Frisian or Belgian of any variety :P). I have amended that bit. Thank you for the comment.

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