Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Wholeness : It's Hard Work

Anyone with even a little bit of knowledge about our ancestors know that the word used for "blessings" and "gifts of luck" is hael, from which we get our modern word "heal".

It is also where we get our modern word "whole".

Blessings, luck, and healing comes through wholeness. Wholeness is hard work. Think of all the many you's you have been, all of the disparate experiences you've had, all the people you love. Bringing that all together, to remain true to what you are, is what constitutes wholeness.

What is your orlog? What is your original nature that is being tested out, tried, and shaped by your experiences of becoming (wyrd) in this world? Can you stay true to that original nature?

Every person has a fylgia, an elfin "follower" who shadows them and watches over them, like a guardian angel. This is a disir, a guardian of fortune dispatched from the hamingja, the clan-disir, to ward one's fate. The fylgia whispers the orlog pronounced by the Norns into the child's ear. She whispers many things to us that come from that place of original law, of primal nature, of wild integrity, and it is said that the fidelity with which we will hear her words and speak out in this world for her (where she cannot be heard except through us) is a factor in the fidelity with which she will speak for us at the doomsteads when we have not yet regained our powers of speech.

Do we begin from that innate truth, and do we return to it to guide us in this world? This is different than looking to external truths. It is different than looking to the outside for confirmation. It is different than looking to scripture or history books or even lore.

Do we let our learning overlay, override, and negate that innate truth, or do we utilize everything we have learned to uncover and make more clear the complexities of what has been whispered into our ears as children?

Our wyrd is our working-out (and testing-out) of our original nature through experiences in this world of becoming. Every one of us has a unique wyrd. These experiences shape us but do not determine us, even though they may have powerful shaping influences.

Every experience we have had can be learned from, and the more we are able to integrate this together, the more whole we become. Experiences are not meant to be discarded, even though we may have to put them on a back shelf for a while until we are able to process them, but to be examined and drawn upon to enrich ourselves. There are lessons in our experience.

Through our experiences, we discover that we are complex, that each of us is multifaceted, a potential unity-in-diversity that might be called a "multiplicity". These can remain fragmented or they can become integrated.

The process of integration is the means to wholeness. When the Gods say they will give us hael, they mean they will give us the power to become whole, to come together, to integrate what has remained separate and divided.

The call to adventure is the call to diversify our experiences, so that we do not stay parochial. The word for "fool" in Icelandic was heimsk, which meant a "homebody", someone who never left home and went out and explored the world. Think of how many fairy tales talk about the protagonist "going out into the world to make his way" or "to find his fortune". Experiences draw out parts of ourselves that may have remained submerged, hidden, or dormant. Because of this, to fully realize our original nature, our orlog, we must go after all of those experiences which stand to draw out those parts of ourselves that remain underdeveloped.

So we not only need to draw upon the experiences that we have happened to have, but in addition, we need to seek out experiences that will bring us to that learning we need to grow as human beings. If there is one thing that is certain, it is that the Gods want us to grow. They want us to challenge ourselves. That is why the sumbel ritual-form was created : as a forum for people to have the community socially witness their formal challenges to themselves.

If we are following the call to adventure, if we let our wyrd lead us out into the world, wending in only the way it can, and offering opportunities of coincidence and synchronicity as only it can , then we are going to be learning things which constantly challenge our old ways of thinking and living. We might say we grow through fits and starts, because receiving new information (which is not the same thing as learning) should not override the values of our tradition. Rather, learning is the process of bringing our older experiences and our newer experiences into creative confrontation whereby neither pole is abandoned but a higher synthesis becomes possible. Hegel really did nail this growth-process fundamental to the heathen way right on the head with his idea of thesis, antithesis, synthesis : there is a beginning set of knowledge and experiences, which become challenged or contradicted by another set of knowledge and experiences, and the honest confrontation between these two sets of knowledge and experience allows the possibility for a synthesis on a higher level. That in turn becomes the new thesis which is then challenged by other experiences, and so on and so forth.

Tradition is like a language. When you become fluent in it, you can speak your own poetry utilizing its symbols in the same way you can utilize the alphabet to write what you want to say. Those who sit around arguing about the alphabet all day have hardly reached fluency, now have they? They are holding an early elementary school debate. But becoming fluent doesn't mean that you throw away the alphabet either. Tradition doesn't have to be something oppressive and conformist. Do you feel conformist simply because you use the words that exist in the dictionary, or follow standard rules of word-formatting that allow other people to understand you? The beauty of a living tradition, just like the beauty of a living language, is that it allows us to express and encompass new experiences as we struggle with them and come to integrate them.

Now sometimes tradition must be stretched just as a poet must stretch language sometimes in order to adequately express a difficult idea. Language grows through these stretchings, as the creators of literature craft and forge from the common set of tools new means of expression. Tradition when it is living does the same thing.

Without this fluency, flexibility, and adaptability, tradition risks becoming a cargo cult. "Cargo cult" is the name given by anthropologists to an interesting set of post-World War II phenomena, in which various Pacific Islanders who had been exposed to advanced technology and Western abundance for the first time during World War II, created some curious rituals when American forces withdrew from those islands. They had seen Americans coming in with their planes, and bringing cargo which they shared with the natives. When the Americans left, the supplies ran out. So the natives began creating replicas of airplanes and models of cargo in the idea that this would summon the Americans back. There is something wonderfully childlike and beautiful about this, but needless to say it was not effective in the least. Are you bowing down before your tools or are you using them?

If tradition seems to merely negate the lessons you have drawn from your experiences, something has gone awry. Tradition is being approached too rigidly here. Its full range of fluency and adaptability has not yet been tapped.

Being dialectical here --- meaning engaging the continual balancing process of "on the one hand, on the other hand" --- can be difficult. On the one hand we hold the tradition with its symbols and its fossils. On the other hand we hold our experiences. The trick is to refuse to throw the baby out with the bathwater on either side. This can be very tempting. Some people cling to tradition and refuse to draw out the lessons their experiences would call them to, or refuse the call to adventure which would take them out of their parochial mindstate. They become rigid in their approach to experience. On the other hand, others completely throw aside tradition, or they carelessly invent with no regards to the integrity of the forms the ancestors have passed down.

This gets very tricky quickly, right? How do you tend to the integrity of the ancestral forms and at the same time stretch them to meet the integrity of your own experiences? And how do you weave them together? These are not questions with preset answers ; they are, rather, quests. They are answered in the process of questioning, of struggling to find the answers in one's own life.

And the challenges have to come from both ways. It's easy as moderns used to throwing out tradition to state that the tradition will have to stretch to meet our experiences. All very well ; it will. But we forget that the ancestors have very valid points where we may have to stretch our own mind and seek out experiences that would enable us to understand them. Through the tradition, the ancestors are going to throw challenges our way, and we have to try to answer and meet those challenges to the best of our ability.

If we pursue our adventures, and if we take up the challenges posed by the ancestors, we're going to find our parochiality strongly challenged. The result of this pincer maneuvre on our parochiality is that we are going to become really shook up.

And that's great! That is the experience of wod, of that dynamic power of shaking up and desettling that begins the true path of questioning that leads to wizard wisdom, and that is why Odin is literally the "Master of Wod". Odin functions here like a Captain Kirk challenging your Homo Sapiens grey matter computer with contradictory programming until you begin to smoke and mutter, "Does not compute! Does not compute!". But unlike the simplistic computers in Star Trek episodes, Odin has given us the gifts to truly be able to riddle out these destabilizing questions in order to find creativity. They become the foundation for inspiration.

Is it any wonder, then, that wod can mean not only the furious rush of a dynamic storm, but also mean poetic inspiration? Riddling here is the art-form that provides the root metaphor for this process. The mind is challenged to think outside this box, but reaches a point of being entirely puzzled. There comes a moment of bewilderment, and out of that dynamic state of confusion, creative, lateral thinking provides a eureka. This eureka opens the floodgates of inspiration.

Notice what we're doing here. We're utilizing traditional language to describe a complex process of mind-blowing, enlightenment, and inspiration. And if you're doing tradition right, you'll find time and again that those experiences you thought too big for tradition were there all along, even if implicitly. The goal of tradition is to compress a great deal of intuitive power into highly charged symbols that are so dense they contain the root of many inflections.

Of course Odin is a figure who teaches us to grow through blowing our mind. How could we think otherwise? And so it turns out the tradition is a meta-tradition capable of encompassing its own process of challenge and growth. When we begin to get what wod is all about, we can joke that the old scribes truncated the whole phrase, and that it was originally, "Whooooooah-d(ude)!"

If you're doing the tradition right, you're going to have a number of mind-blowing experiences. And here we come right back to wholeness, because then your job is to integrate these experiences so that you can be a whole person. Easy to dismiss them. Easy to put them aside. And yes, sometimes it takes a long time to integrate them, or even be able to approach them. But there all those experiences lie, potent, fertile, threatening, ready for the great alchemy of integration.

And that is what wholeness is all about. It's a profound process of alchemy, which calls for great care, finesse, heart, and an impeccable sense of timing to allow alchemical combinations to occur between our experiences that are fertile and full of luck. And now that we've understood wholeness and luck as part of a process of alchemy, we are enabled to revision hael from a conception of an external handout from the Gods that we passively await, and rather a gift of grace that accompanies doing our own alchemical work on ourselves.

Given the importance of community to our ancestors, this wasn't just an individual task. It was a communal task as well. Notice that in your life you are going to become close to many people, and each of those people have a voice, a standpoint, a set of perspectives they find very important and which are partially responsible for the gifts they are able to give to you. Your wholeness includes being able to be true to all those voices, too. Whoah, you may say. You expect me to be able to do all that?

Didn't I begin by saying that wholeness is hard work? A gift calls for a gift. If you want the gift of hael, you're going to have to work hard for it.

Mysteries are found in strange places, and not evenly distributed. There are signs in the lore that the some of the great mysteries of existence were scattered widely over the earth and amongst mankind, suggesting against any narrow tribalism that there are lessons to be learned, and secrets of existence to be gained, amongst people everywhere. How will we ever be whole as a folk unless we work hard to regather what has been scattered so widely? These lost mysteries must be integrated, too.

Speaking of the runes that Odin learned, Sigrdrifa says, Allar váru af skafnar, þær er váru á ristnar, ok hverfðar við inn helga mjöð ok sendar á víða vega (Sigrdrifumal 20). This may be translated, "All were shaved off, when they were carved, and disappeared along with the holy mead and cast out in all directions." There is a notion here that some of the mysteries were lost along with the mead, and cast out far and wide, suggesting that they may still be found. Where might they be found? The verse continues : þær ro með ásum, þær ro með álfum, sumar með vísum vönum, sumar hafa mennskir menn, "They are amongst the Aesir, they are amongst the Alfar, some are amongst the wise Vanir, and some are had by human beings." Mennskir menn is not a tribal statement, but a statement of broad humanity : some are had amongst humanity-at-large.

The mysteries are found amongst the Gods, the Elves, the Vanir, and some are even to be found amongst the human race. Far and wide these mysteries were thrown out.

Why would the mysteries be thrown out and scattered far and wide when the mead was lost? We know the mead came from Kvasir's veins, at the time of the unfrith or great dispute between the Aesir and Vanir in the beginning of time when Mimir was decapitated and many other ills occurred that caused great loss in the world. It may be said that because of this, many secrets were lost, and thrown onto the eight winds.

Now Sigrdrifumal 20 may also be translated, "All were shaved off, when they were carved, and stirred along with the holy mead and sent out on ways far and wide." This implies that the runes were stirred into the drink of the holy mead itself, which was then shared with folks far and wide. There is still the notion that all kinds of clans hold secrets for those who would learn. And as we know, the retrieving of the mead itself caused a scattering of inspiration upon the earth. In Skaldskaparmal 1, in the story of how Odin retrieved the mead, we read, en er Óðinn kom inn of Ásgarð, þá spýtti hann upp miðinum í kerin, en honum var þá svá nær komit, at Suttungr myndi ná honum, at hann sendi aftr suman mjöðinn, ok var þess ekki gætt. Hafði þat hverr, er vildi, ok köllum vér þat skáldfífla hlut. En Suttungamjöð gaf Oðinn ásunum ok þeim mönnum, er yrkja kunnu, "When Odin came in to Asgard, then he spat up the mead into the cups. When he was on the verge of arriving, Suttung aimed at getting ahold of him, so he cast backwards some of the mead, and this was [considered a sorrow/shame : assuming we translate ekki as "sorrow"] [thought to be nothing : assuming we translate ekki as "naught" or "nothing"]. Whomever wanted that had it, and we call that the lot of the skald-fools (or foolish skalds). But Suttung's mead Odin gave to the Aesir and those men who knew how to make verses." (Both translation-possibilities may be correct here : it may have at first been thought to be nothing, and later on was considered a sorrow that these droplets had been lost.)

When Odin let slip some of the mead to distract Suttung (or simply let go of some of it in his haste to escape capture), he was flying high in the heavens into Asgard. Whatever he threw backwards would have been caught by the winds and carried whereever they might go.

Some of the mead of lesser quality was scattered backwards, and found by whomever could find a drop or two. These small drops gave some poetic power, but not enough to turn a fool into a wise person. On the other hand, the intact mead was shared out to men who took the time to learn how to make verses.

Some of it can be had by anyone, just wandering the earth, through chance coincidence and happenstance stumbling. But this yields little talent, and only small glimpses. These small glimpses may be enough for some to begin the path, but if they consider them the end-all and be-all of truth and mystery, they will end up as fools. Those who want to have the big glimpses have to develop their craft of poetry, and commune with the Holy Gods.

The mead of inspiration and wisdom is given to the poets and songsmiths. But the line which reads þeim mönnum, er yrkja kunnu may also be translated as "those men who know how to work". "Work" originally meant "creation", and thus also meant verse-making. It has the same connotation as the Greek poesis, "to make, to arrange, to fashion, to create", from which we derive the word "poetry".

Let's take a bird's eye view of these points. Travelling far and wide, you will gain little bits of inspiration, and mysteries which were lost long ago amongst the different people you meet. If you then develop these inspirations and mysteries through working your craft, through developing them into an art of integration and expression, and seek to learn from the Numinous Powers of Existence, a full drink of the mead may become available to you. You will be blessed with great wholeness.

I want to press this point of the mysteries to be found far and wide, because it has some potentially controversial implications for some. Havamal 18 openly declares that Sá einn veit er víða ratar ok hefr fjölð of farit, "The only one who knows anything is he who has travelled widely and has had multiple journeys". The first part of Havamal might be considered a guide to how to learn while out and about on these journeys. In fact, it might be considered the manual for "going out into the world to seek your fortune".

Inn vari gestr er til verðar kemr þunnu hljóði þegir, eyrum hlýðir, en augum skoðar; svá nýsisk fróðra hverr fyrir (Havamal 7). "The cautious guest when he comes to a meal keeps silence while keenly listening, his ears hearing, his eyes examining ; so every wise one peers ahead." We've seen this quote before. Out in the world, keep your ears keen. Check things out very closely. You're there to learn. That doesn't mean you remain passively receptive to all information that comes your way ; after all, Byrði betri berr-at maðr brautu at en sé mannvit mikit (Havamal 10), "On the road, a man can bear no better burden than a great deal of common sense". Mannvit : street-smarts, common sense about the nature of humankind. Listen, learn, use your common sense, examine things closely, and you will come away with some powerful experiences. Travelling about will keep your life dynamic, and ensure that there is wod, mind-blowing turbulence, in your life.

The Northern attitude towards the non-hostile foreigner is cautious but courteous and positive : they have secrets to share. You know the voices at home, and you have to work hard to integrate the best from these voices, but there are also voices afar that call out to your adventurous spirit, and these voices, too, you must integrate.

You will find friendship in strange places. You will discover frith where you least expected it. Love and learning can arise in surprising circumstances. These are all experiences to be learned from and integrated. These are voices that also call out for you to be true to them.

If you have a friend who is Mormon (or Catholic, or Jewish, or what have you), you're going to want to learn about Mormonism. That doesn't mean you'll become a Mormon, but it does mean that in the encounter with that which gives your friend meaning, you will find meaning you'll be able to bring back home to your tradition and your kin that will prove of benefit. No matter what your wholistic evaluation of your friend's religion is, you will know not to throw the baby out with the bathwater, and take whatever truth you can find, for sumar hafa mennskir menn, some of the secrets to the good life are found at large amongst the human tribes, and you can bring these back to enrich your own folk.

You can be straight as a board. If you have a loved one who is gay, no matter whether they are a new friend, or a relative, or just someone who is part of a community you care about, guess what? You are now involved in gayness, and it would behoove you to learn as much about it as you can. If you experience homophobia, that is now going to be challenged by the reality of the one you care about, if you are to be whole, and true to the wholeness of your connections. This does not, of course, mean that you will become gay, nor does it even mean that all of you will necessarily accept it (assuming you experience some sort of conflict with it). But it does mean you will not be the same coming out as you went in, and that is good, and as it was meant to be. This is part of the learning Odin hopes we will gain as we walk the wide ways in this world.

It's hard work becoming whole. There's voices that surround us, and voices clamoring within us, and experience that is good and broad tests those claims and positions, and gives us a chance to dynamically work out our own original nature. We have to work out a relationship between the outside and the inside in which we are in relation, but not being externally determined, yet not solipsistic either. We are talking about the process of educing, the root of our word "education', which does not mean to impose, but rather to "draw out". With skill, direction, and good fortune, experience draws out our original nature, which we were meant to speak and be. Our original nature works itself out. It wyrds itself. Orlog wyrds. And don't expect that beautiful, surprising, and uncanny working-out and becoming to be normal.

Our ancestors got it right. It will be weird, every step of the way.

But weirdness helps us figure out how to be whole.

And isn't that a blessing?

all translations copyright 2009 by Siegfried Goodfellow


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yes, yes it is.

7:33 AM  
Blogger Morning Angel said...

Wow and wow.

9:03 AM  
Blogger SiegfriedGoodfellow said...


6:37 PM  

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