This material was first presented as a series of lectures in Estel Sidhevair beginning on Nov. 5, 2008. These lectures weregeared to online community members of the “Fantasy Archipelago” in the Old Virtual grid and in particular to the Elf Circle Guardians who include the ethics of the Nine Virtues in their training to act as mentors and first responders to online trouble for the approximately 1500 members of Elf Circle (EC). Please note that the material is also presented with a distinct mythopoeic approach, basically written by and for creatures of fantasy. The original lecture transcript has been modified for a more general audience.
While the Nine Noble Virtues are drawn from Norse religious perspectives, this introduction and the nine lectures which follow also draw from other ethical and religious constructs from around the world including Celtic, Hellenic, and East Indian perspectives.
The original lectures were presented online on Wednesday nights at 8 PM with some breaks for various holidays. They were facilitated by the direct avatar interactions made possible via digital worlds. The lectures were all presented in the main conference area of the community center (Enedh Gwaith) on the virtual island of Estel Sidhevair.In some cases there were guest speakers, where appropriate their remarks are included with the main lectures. Each lecture was followed by a discussion section. These talks at times lasted far into the night, sometimes growing rather heated.
The 4th of the 9 Noble Virtues is known as Fidelity which is also referred to as Loyalty.
This is the case in the 9 Virtues class in Elf Circle which describes Loyalty as “the unwavering commitment to the well being of those who are deemed worthy of such a commitment. As with the other virtues, the definition, discussion, and veneration of this virtue has a long history in human thought. The great Roman orator, Cicero remarked that:
“Nothing is more noble, nothing more venerable than fidelity. Faithfulness and truth are the most sacred excellences and endowments of the human mind.”
Fidelity as a virtue is highly associated with Truth since at its base, Fidelity exists as a truthful association between one person and another being or concept. Fidelity derives from the Latin word “fidelitas” which translates also as “faithfulness”.
Another closely related concept, “fealty”, also emerges from this Latin origin and both words can be seen as originally referring to the loyalty owed to one’s lord or ruler in the socio-economic context of feudalism. This form of social structure is hierarchical and dates from the same medieval period of human history that we associate with much of what we might term High Fantasy fashion and Elven and other Fantasy societies.
There are Nobles and/or religious leaders at the top (often jockeying for position) and serfs at the bottom. In between these two poles exist layers of varying roles with greater or lesser freedom depending upon a complicated variety of factors. While to many, the rather rigid assignment to one’s role in life would be seen as extraordinarily constraining, this social structure has been re-interpreted in a fantasy context.
In Fantasy settings, the ideal is emphasized and the focus is upon the romantic aspects of chivalry (from French chevalier, or horseman, i.e. Knight). There is an idealized contract between feudal nobility and those under their protection which is more likely to be realized in the tales of Heroic fiction than in corollaries from history. Certainly, lovers of fantasy tend to identify with the Nobles rather than the serfs and social mobility is much more likely than in the source cultures. As a point of fact, “changing one’s stars” is more a theme of fantasy than of feudal actuality. You will notice that serfdom as a form of slavery, for example, is outlawed in Elf Circle and the allied and surrounding lands of Fantasy.
Turning to the Neo-Norse perspective on Loyalty, the virtue is seen in terms of fidelity to one’s own personal values and ethics, loyalty to one’s family and relationships, loyalty to one’s ancestors and one’s folk history, and of central importance is the loyalty to one’s Gods. There is no Honor without Loyalty, and in a sense loyalty can be seen as being “true” to one’s oaths, promises, and relationships. In the context of Loyalty to one’s Gods and one’s ethics and spirituality, the closely related concept of “Piety” comes into play. Piety involves devotion, loyalty and duty to one’s God(s) and is inclusive of the ethical and moral principles that relate to one’s religion. This typically includes obedience or service to one’s parents, one’s elders, or to those above one in a hierarchy, often defined as one’s “betters”.
Piety derives from the Latin word “pietas” which roughly translates as “goodness” or “devotion” and is also closely related to the Latin “piare”, which translates as expiation or atonement. Pious beings are usually seen to hold to and revere their various Divinities, to adhere to the commandments, demands, rules, and ethics of their traditions, and importantly to, by their very nature, emanate their spirituality and sense of the sacred.
Turning to another related Northern European pre-Abrahamic take on Loyalty, the Irish word that is closest to “loyalty” is “tairise” from the Old Irish word “tairisiu” which is literally translated as “steadfastness”. Here again the connection with Truth is revealed. This is because the Celtic view of Loyalty involves Trust in another as well as unswerving service to another’s advantage. The key concept here is the ‘unswerving’ nature of the relationship—its constancy. This interpretation of Loyalty refers to a reliable (trustworthy) and consistent bond to another. Another Celtic word for “loyal” is in Irish “dí lis” and in Welsh “dilys”.
This Celtic take on loyalty refers to unquestionable title to property, and also to unchanging attributes. This has come to also mean consistency, in the sense that some qualities and beliefs are so profoundly rooted in a person that they are unalterable and can therefore be relied upon. This interpretation relates to the modern Welsh usage of “dilys” to mean authentic.
The Celtic view of fidelity can be seen in two important Irish proverbs related to constancy in promise:
“Mairg chailleas a gheasa.”
(Woe to him who fails in his vows.)
“Na brise do gheasa.”
(Break not your vows.)
The relationship between promises, loyalty, fidelity, fealty, and homage relates to medieval concepts emerging from feudalism. Fidelity is a vital component of feudalism wherein a sacred oath-bound ritual of obligation (fealty) was sworn between a vassal and a Lord to confirm and legitimize the feudal bond. This sense of the binding nature of one’s word as it is connected to Fidelity is often extended to promises of sexual monogamy, specifically in terms of the observance of one’s marriage vows and the avoidance of adultery.
It is important to remember that it is the *nature* of the contract (as expressed in the relevant oaths and vows) that defines the terms of Fidelity. Singular Fidelity, as defined by limiting one’s sexual relationship to one’s spouse, is not the only possible manner of remaining faithful, however. Just as it is possible to be loyal to one’s church, one’s wife, one’s children, one’s job, and one’s internal voice, often without the need to narrow or choose between these loyalties, it is possible for alternative forms of loyal familial relationship to exist.
The modern equation of monogamy to fidelity is so profoundly held however, that many treat marital mono-fidelity as if there is no other way to be faithful. This has resulted in the need some have found to invent new terms such as “poly-fidelity” which have emerged to describe deep and abiding loyalty to more than one sexual partner. Regardless of the number involved in a fidelitous promise, whether between a vassal and a Lord or a husband and his wife, in order for such a relationship to work ideally, all sides of the agreement must be honest and faithful to all involved parties.
While fealty usually is seen in terms of the loyalty one owes one’s Lord, the opposite is equally true. Mark Twain wrote: “Loyalty to the country always. Loyalty to the government when it deserves it.” He also remarked that: “Loyalty to petrified opinion never yet broke a chain or freed a human soul.”
As with all virtues there is a Shadow Side to Loyalty. Blind obedience and loyalty can result in simple enabling or at its worst, in atrocity. There also can come a time when one’s loyalties conflict and when circumstances change. As we become more thoughtful creatures, we are at times faced with recognizing when it is appropriate to reconsider and change one’s vows and one’s loyalties. This can emerge from a situation where one side of the dyadic contract is no longer meeting the obligations of the initial bond. It can also emerge from the simple evolution of the character and nature of a person so that they can no longer be true and loyal to themselves and still be true to the agreements they have made with another.
At times, honoring one’s vows of fealty or fidelity can mean one must break a vow in order to keep to the actual underlying intent. Choosing to sever ties with a loved one, for example, can be the best way to love, honor and support that person. Similarly, if one has promised to defend one’s countrymen, and one’s government has turned against those very people, one can be placed in the almost untenable situation of having to choose between them. Conflicts between Loyalty to Nation and Loyalty to something larger can emerge.
Carl Sagan wrote in an almost Elvish tone: “Our loyalties are to the species and the planet. We speak for Earth. Our obligation to survive is owed not just to ourselves but also to that Cosmos, ancient and vast, from which we spring.”
Similarly, Martin Luther King, Jr. said: “Our loyalties must transcend our race, our tribe, our class, and our nation; and this means we must develop a world perspective.”
I suppose in our cases, this would be a “Worlds” perspective. Regardless, it is important to consider what vows of fealty one makes and how these can later unfold. I am going to turn now to the topic of how this virtue of Fidelity/Loyalty/Fealty/Piety interacts with Creatures of Fantasy, such as ourselves.
I mentioned that it is important to take oaths we feel we can abide by. Interestingly, while working on this particular virtue as it relates to oaths and vows…
I found myself trying to remember the oath an Elf Circle Guardian takes upon completion of the requirements for Guardianship. I knew it was a simple vow, and that it included language I had felt some concerns about, specifically “defend the defenseless”. I remember thinking at the time I took that oath about ways to assure that all my fellow Shalear are empowered by knowing how to defend themselves. I did not want to empower helplessness or a victim mentality. Considering all the work I was putting into this topic, I felt pretty sheepish that I could not remember the words I had promised to uphold. I also found it rather significant. I logged in to look for Lady Pammie who administers the Oath. She was not around. No Guardian online could remember the words either. On the one hand, this made me feel somewhat better. On the other, I found it even more significant.
Here I was writing about the importance of this virtue for all of us and certainly for the Elf Circle Guardians who have trained in the 9 virtues as part of our requirements. It struck me as funny and ironic. Of course, to be fair, the sense of the oath remains with every Guardian, each of us has agreed to the underlying meaning, and we each bring our own gifts to the way we live our oath of loyal service in Elf Circle. Eventually, I dug the vow up from a log from when Lady Zotarah became a Guardian. The Oath:
“Do you pledge yourself to the defense of the defenseless, to the humble service to others, and to the protection of the homelands of the Guardians?”
This oath is an example of the loyalty that the Guardians owe to others and to Elf Circle Lands. It is born of modern interpretations of Chivalry. Materials from before the Elf Circle/Elf Clan split underlie some of these interpretations. The materials note that chivalry refers to the medieval institution of knighthood and, most especially, the ideals that were (or have become) associated with it. In the Elf Clan discussion of Ethics the portion dealing with Loyalty reads:
“He will surely honor his words; he will definitely carry out his actions. Whatever he promises he will fulfill. He does not care about his bodily self, putting his life and death aside to come forward for another's troubled besiegement. He does not boast about his ability, nor shamelessly extol his own virtues.” I found the discussion of notions of how Chivalry is expressed to be very interesting. There are strong similarities between the ethical instruction in both groups.
In both, appropriate loyalty and other aspects of Chivalry are compartmentalized into four basic aspects:
1. how one honors and owes fealty to the leadership,
2. how one is loyal to the group’s members,
3. how one shows loyalty to the collective nature of the Group and Elves in general,
4. how one is loyal to the unity of fellow Guardians.
The emphasis in the first aspect is on address, title, and polite and respectful acknowledgment of leadership, as well as bringing Guardian concerns to the leadership for guidance and resolution. The emphasis in the second aspect is on humility and service: basically being gentle, honorable and polite when responding to the needs of “the people”. The emphasis in the third aspect is on speaking well of the group, promoting and supporting the Lands and avoiding public criticism of both. The emphasis on the final aspect, the Guardians ourselves, includes the primary importance of the presentation of a united front, along with building trust and comradery among Guardians.
Elf Clan literature also includes a humorous note: “Being chivalrous does not mean using starch in your undies. You can be chivalrous without using "thee" and "thou" every other sentence. Being chivalrous does not mean you have to bow to every lady passing by (although there is no problem with such). It does not mean you have to be excessively "elven" or "guard" every second of the day."
I’d like to more deeply look at the connection between this virtue of Fidelity and our source literatures. In the discussion of the relationship between Fidelity and High Fantasy, it is practically impossible to avoid drawing upon the works and writings of Bilbo and Frodo as distributed to modern humans by Lord Tolkien. Those familiar with the tales of the brave Hobbits and their involvement in both the discovery and the destruction of the One Ring, will be familiar with the repeated themes of fidelity as it is expressed in their stories. All creatures of fantasy owe a debt to the Chroniclers of these tales and of course to the extraordinary Perianath (Hobbits) themselves. Outstanding among them as an example of Fidelity is Samwise Gamgee.
Tolkien notes (Letters, 161, 329) that Sam is saved by his fidelity to Frodo Baggins. Samwise is so empowered by his constancy that he is able to go far beyond the normal limits of his stature (both physical and social) to triumph over amazing odds. It is the Fidelity of Samwise which is the basis for the great Istari (Wizard) Gandalf’s accurate prediction early on that this particular virtue will be central to their ultimate success. Fidelity relates to the Virtue of Courage as well. Sam’s discovery that Frodo was only poisoned by Shelob and not dead results in his decision to prioritize his loyalty to Frodo even over his duty to Middle Earth. He does not continue down into Mordor to destroy the Ring. Despite his fear, Sam’s Fidelity to Frodo fans his Courage into a flame which leads him to turn back and face a hoarde of Orcs to rescue his particular little Lord. Eventually, Sam’s Fidelity to Frodo gives him the strength to carry the Ringbearer up the very slopes of Mount Doom. Sam’s Fidelity to Frodo is as powerful as Frodo’s mercifulness with Gollum. Without both of these virtues the Ring would have fallen into the hands of the Enemy.
It is not only Samwise of course, who demonstrates the virtue of Fidelity as expressed through Loyalty and affection. Fidelity is all through these tales where is is specifically expressed as Fellowship. Fidelity as Fellowship combines community, cooperation, common interests, brotherhood, equality and loving devotion. This Fellowship is stronger than the normal bonds of friendship; it rises to the greatest heights of constancy, connection and loyalty. In every essential choice made by the heroes of these tales, Fellowship is the underlying virtue. As with Samwise’s choice above to turn from the ultimate goal of the Quest to save Frodo, the other heroes almost always make similar decisions. Fidelity comes before all else. The message throughout these tales is that we must trust our fidelity and allow it to guide us.
As Gandalf says when he decides to allow Merry and Pippin to join the Fellowship and embark on their quest: “Trust rather to their friendship than to great wisdom.” When Fellowship is abandoned in the tales, it is met with calamity and death. This is the case for Boromir when he attempts to take the Ring. It is also the case for Saruman who betrays the Valar, his oaths and commitments as a Maiar and Istari, and his friends and charges. Ironically, Saruman dies eventually at the hands of Wormtongue, who had previously appeared to be loyal to Saruman while simultaneously betraying the Riders of Rohan. The wisdom regarding traitors who ignore the virtue of Fidelity is clear. While the consistent message in both There and Back Again and the Red Books (The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings) is of the value of the virtue of Fidelity, there is never an obvious external guideline as to how to decide between conflicting loyalties.
This sort of conflict as I described earlier between the loyalty to one’s principles or friends and the duty to one’s Nation is not easily resolved and there are no simple answers in any of the works of the Perianath. When Samwise abandons the quest to destroy the Ring and turns back for Frodo… when Aragon decides to pursue the Orcs who have taken Pippin and Merry rather than going after Frodo to help him destroy the Ring… when Eowyn ignores her instructions from her King and her assigned duty to disguise herself and Ride to battle… the true guidance in each case is to listen to and to trust and be true to one’s internal voice. Thus Loyalty to oneself is paramount.
As Polonius says to Laertes in Shakespeare’s Hamlet:
“This above all: to thine own self be true,
And it must follow, as the night the day,
Thou canst not then be false to any man.”
Fidelity as a virtue in Fantasy, as in the Outworld, supplies the foundation for personal choice. In the works of the Perianath, Fellowship is prioritized over individual wants and even survival. It is Fellowship and Loyalty, Constancy and Love that inspire Fidelity. And when we trust our hearts and listen to ourselves and these related aspects of this lovely virtue we often accomplish surprising and worthwhile results. In the context of all the Worlds we creatures of Fantasy walk, we can express the various attributes of Fidelity.
We express Loyalty through how we conduct our traditions and ceremonies,
We express Fealty and Fellowship through our maintenance of evenhanded and equitable communal and individual relationships and responsibilities,
And, if religious, we express Piety when we enact with sincerity and intention the rituals and ceremonies of our particular spiritual traditions.
And now I’d like to open up this lecture to a discussion among the Fellowship gathered here.
About the Original Lecture Series
The fourth virtue
The 9 Virtues
Please read the about the virtue of Fidelity below and then follow the links in this section to read about the other virtues that comprise the Nine Noble Virtues.
The Nine Noble Virtues are Courage, Truth, Honor, Fidelity, Discipline, Hospitality, Industriousness, Self-Reliance, and Perseverance.
The 9 Virtues lecture series was presented originally by the Faelf who comprise the members and avatars of Westernesste and the Sidhevairs. The Sidhevairs are a non-profit arts and educational association which share a group tax exemption under 501(c)3 of the Internal Revenue Code as a chartered coordinating subordinate organization of Westernesste. Donations to us are tax deductible. You can learn learn more about our parent organization by visiting the Westernesste site. You can learn more about the organization of The Sidhevairs, see our EIN letter, our DUNS information, our charter, and our articles of association by clicking here.