Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Soul's Geography and Journeys

The geography of the soul is immense. The unbelievably wide expanses we will traverse in a lifetime can only be described through the medium of painstaking and adventurous travelogues, like Dante's Divine Comedy, or The Odyssey, or like ... the Travels of Odr.

Let's take Dante for beginners. Dante travels down into the pit, gradually spiralling down from worse to worst, and then ascends back up, hiking up Mount Purgatory, and then finally gets to go up into the highest, celestial realms. He sees the lowest and the highest, and in order to get to the highest, he must first plumb the depths. This is an archetypal journey, and we will see it in Odr's journey as well, where he must first go down into the Underworld and navigate its perils and wonders before he will be able to ascend into Asgard to finally wed Freya. Odysseus never ascends Mount Olympus, but his return to his homeland represents for him the attainment of bliss, and he, too, in order to get back must first descend into the Underworld.

The thing about the soul's journey is that no one else can tell us what course we will chart (not unless they are capable of seeing into such things, and even then can only give us helpful hints). Each of us will chart a different course through at times treacherously perilous, often densely intricate, and vastly extensive territory.

It may sound somewhat of a cliche these days to speak of the soul's journey, and once something has become cliche, we often are dulled to the power of the metaphor and fail to be affected by it in its fullness and power. When I speak of the "geography" of the soul, I am not speaking in cliches, but suggesting that only the vastness and tremendous contrasts of the world's geography can supply imagery that even begins to do justice to the kinds of inner journeys we will be called upon to trek in this life time.

Similarly, only those who can peer into the inner geography of another soul's journeys can possibly evaluate their worth and work, because we don't know the kinds of ells and leagues they have had to travel to get where they are. One can begin at a height early in life only to take a fall which one spends the next twenty years painstakingly trying to re-ascend. I would recommend accompanying the reading of that sentence without abstractions and with the intense imagery of actual geographic places, because, I suggest, the soul actually experiences them that way.

This is why Odr, who represents the soul in all of us, is called Vidforli in Icelandic and Widsith in Anglo-Saxon, "Widely-Travelled", because for the soul, our experiences and trials are experienced as wide, wide travels, even if we are not moving at all for some periods. The proverbial Norse caution against the heimsk, the homebody, is that without actually experiencing some of that larger geography, our poetic imagination will lack the raw material of soul meeting world to obtain the imagery necessary to encompass the actual soul-travels we are trekking. Travel and terrain give us those resources.

But this is not a matter of "resource extraction" in a one-way, colonial flow, but rather a sensuous exchange of love where soul meets world, and is meant to inspire our love and loyalty towards world itself. Earth, after all, is the Mother of Love.

We may have to travel through thick and tangled jungles that no one else can see, or across deserts where we are parched and challenged but also awed by the Zion-like beauty of the stone monuments, or across salty oceans into ports few at home can understand. The Gods see these journeys, which is why they, and only they, are qualified to judge and evaluate the soul in that doomstead near the Well of Wyrd. If we seek to evaluate another, understanding that it will always be only partial and imperfect given our imperfect mortal understanding, we must try to sense and grasp the kinds of inner geographies they have had to traverse in their travels and trials. We must attempt to visualize the terrain they've had to climb, walk, hike, schlep, and drag themselves across.

Soul has vast vistas it must cross.


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