Morality & Ethics

In Heathenry, moral and ethical views are based on the perceived ethics of Iron Age and Early Medieval Northwestern Europe, in particular the actions of heroic figures who appear in Old Norse sagas. Evoking a life-affirming ethos, Heathen ethics focus on the ideals of honor, courage, integrity, hospitality, and hard work, and strongly emphasize loyalty to family. It is common for practitioners to be expected to keep their word, particularly sworn oaths. There is thus a strong individualist ethos focused around personal responsibility, and a common motto within the Heathen community is that "We are our deeds". Most Heathens reject the concept of sin and believe that guilt is a destructive rather than useful concept.

Some Heathen communities have formalized such values into an ethical code, the Nine Noble Virtues (NNV), which is based largely on the Hávamál from the Poetic Edda. This was first developed by the founders of the UK-based Odinic Rite in the 1970s, although has spread internationally, with 77% of respondents to a 2015 survey of Heathens reporting the use of it in some form. There are different forms of the NNV, with the number nine having symbolic associations in Norse mythology. Opinion is divided on the NNV; some practitioners deem them too dogmatic, while others eschew them for not having authentic roots in historical Germanic culture, negatively viewing them as an attempt to imitate the Judeo-Christian Ten Commandments. Their use is particularly unpopular in Nordic countries.

Within the Heathen community of the United States, gender roles are based upon perceived ideals and norms found in Early Medieval Northwestern Europe, in particular as they are presented in Old Norse sources. Among male American Heathens there is a trend toward hyper-masculine behavior, while a gendered division of labor—in which men are viewed as providers and women seen as being responsible for home and children—is also widespread among Heathens in the U.S. Due to its focus on traditional attitudes to sex and gender—values perceived as socially conservative in Western nations—it has been argued that American Heathenry's ethical system is far closer to traditional Christian morals than the ethical systems espoused in many other Western Pagan religions such as Wicca. A 2015 survey of the Heathen community nevertheless found that a greater percentage of Heathens were opposed to traditional gender rules than in favor of them, with this being particularly the case in Northern Europe.

The sociologist Jennifer Snook noted that as with all religions, Heathenry is "intimately connected" to politics, with practitioners' political and religious beliefs influencing one another. As a result of the religion's emphasis on honoring the land and its wights, many Heathens take an interest in ecological issues, with many considering their faith to be a nature religion. Heathen groups have participated in tree planting, raising money to purchase woodland, and campaigning against the construction of a railway between London and the Channel Tunnel in Southeastern England. Many Germanic Neopagans are also concerned with the preservation of heritage sites, and some practitioners have expressed concern regarding archaeological excavation of prehistoric and Early Medieval burials, believing that it is disrespectful to the individuals interred, whom Heathens widely see as their ancestors.

Ethical debates within the community also arise when some practitioners believe that the religious practices of certain co-religionists conflict with the religion's "conservative ideas of proper decorum". For instance, while many Heathens eschew worship of the Norse god Loki, deeming him a baleful wight, his gender-bending nature has made him attractive to many LGBT Heathens. Those who adopt the former perspective have thus criticized Lokeans as effeminate and sexually deviant. Views on homosexuality and LGBT rights remain a source of tension within the community. Some right-wing Heathen groups view homosexuality as being incompatible with a family-oriented ethos and thus censure same-sex sexual activity. Other groups legitimize openness toward LGBT practitioners by reference to the gender-bending actions of Thor and Odin in Norse mythology. There are, for instance, homosexual and transgender members of The Troth, a prominent U.S. Heathen organisation. Many Scandinavian Heathen groups perform same-sex marriages, and a group of self-described "Homo-Heathens" marched in the 2008 Stockholm Pride carrying a statue of the god Freyr.