Lessons from the Winds: Óðinn and Breath

I stand on a path on a rocky moor, the clouds like steel overhead. Below me the wild, deep azure of the river cuts through the valley. It’s cold here, and noisy as I walk. I hear the rush of the water and feel the wind beating against my ears.

I follow the noise to the source – a waterfall, but it isn’t just any waterfall.

Goðafoss sits like a watery giant reclining against the hard rock face of the valley to stretch out feet into the land around. There is a sense of expansiveness, but also layers of story stored in the depths.

Þorgeir and his Cloak

One of those stories is that of the godposts of Þorgeir Ljósvetningagoði Þorkelsson. Þorgeir you see, was a lawspeaker who lived around 1000 CE, a time when Christianity was putting down roots in the north. The crisis faced by the people of Iceland was one of conversion, and it had fallen to Þorgeir to decide how to proceed as he was the one person trusted by both Heathen and Christian alike.

Þorgeir’s decision was unenviable. On the one hand, there was growing pressure from Norway for the Icelanders to convert, and many Icelanders had already converted. But on the other, those who remained Heathen in Iceland wished to continue to worship the gods of their forefathers.

Now that’s a very condensed version of what was going on when Þorgeir elected to go under the cloak to see what was to be done.

Going under the cloak is one of those Heathen period magical practices that doesn’t get a whole lot of attention by modern Heathens. (There are a few Óðinn - cloakpractices like that though, if I’m being honest.)

Part of the problem is that we don’t really know a whole lot about the practice. But we can be reasonably certain that for Þorgeir, on that fateful day at Þingvellir, it was a method of seeking wisdom about a seemingly impossible situation.

And so he went under the cloak, lying as though sleeping or dead for long hours until he surfaced and made the announcement that a decision had been reached: the Icelanders were to publicly become Christians, but were able to keep their ancestral ways privately.

What’s in a Name?

It’s hard to imagine how Þorgeir must have felt after making that decision. He himself was a Heathen, and yet one of the first things he did on leaving the Allþing was to cast his godposts into the rushing depths of Goðafoss.

This is why it’s called ‘Goðafoss’; it’s the waterfall of the gods (though some say ‘goði’ as Þorgeir was a goði).

The Lone Weirdo

I’d gone to Goðafoss as part of a Land Sea Sky tour group. I was a presenter on the tour, along with the incomparable Morgan Daimler, and I’d been experimenting with a method for going under the cloak that had been yielding interesting results.
That was my plan at the waterfall of the gods, and that’s what I did.

I’m probably in the background in a bunch of tourist photos – a lone weirdo hooded and wrapped in a shawl of serpentine patterns lying down as though to take a nap.

But that’s okay, I hope they found the falls as special as I did.

Now I’m not here today to talk about the experience of going under the cloak, or how I do that. I have a description of my entire process (as well as how I came to practice in that way) in my upcoming book that’s coming out at the end of this year/early next year.

(Did I mention that yet? I don’t think I did. Btw guys, I’ve got a book coming out on Heathen magic.)

No, today I’m here to talk about what happened after I got up from the cloak and the practice I discovered from that experience. That is what I would like to share today – what I’m being nudged to share.

Óðinn Gave Breath

So I get up from the ground and dust myself off. But suddenly, I become aware of the sound of heavy wing beats even above the din of the waters. I feel them in my heart even, and search them out with my eyes.

Two ravens fly the breadth of the waterfall and come up the opposite side of the river to draw level with me.

Time slows, becomes weighty with presence and I know that I’m being shown something.

I feel my breath mingle with the wind – with Óðinn, the god who first gave breath-soul to humans. For a long moment there is a communion of sorts. But this isn’t just a connection with a god. He’s there too but it’s bigger than that. Instead it’s like my sense of self falls away, expanding to include the world and people around me, and it’s wonderful. A true place of potential.

Connecting With Óðinn Through Breath

Think about every breath you take. From the beginning of life when a baby takes that first breath before releasing a scream into the world, to the end when those borrowed breaths are finally released back to the winds, breath is our constant companion. This is life, death, interconnectedness, and the mother of spoken sounds.

Some say the Old English Rune Poem credits the Old Man as the source of all speech. I think in a sense he is.

This is how I like to check in with Óðinn, and I think some of you might like it too.

The best place to do this is outside, preferably in a high place where the winds blow wild. Those have always been the places where I’ve felt his presence the strongest.

For a Heathen, relationships are built with gifting, so bring a gift with you (wine is good). Prayers don’t hurt either. Then simply sit and focus on your breath.

This works best when you can forget about all the things that keep you separate and different from the rest of the world. Óðinn is a mutable god. He is a god of masks and becoming other people as needed. Hell, even his name refers to temporary states of being! It’s a lot easier if you try to become mutable too.

You won’t always experience his presence when you do this. But there are worse ways to spend a morning or evening than exploring the interconnectedness of breath and wind on a hill somewhere so it’s no loss.

Just be sure to dress for the weather.

And that’s it.

Happy Wednesday, all!

“Reality”

reality - cat

Reality is a funny old thing, isn’t it? For starters, everyone thinks they know what it is. We all have clearly defined ideas of what is ‘real’, and what is ‘a bridge too far’, and while there is some degree of variance between individuals, on the whole there is still something of a consensus.

This my good people, is what is known as “consensus reality”.

Examining Consensus

I’ll admit, the first time I heard the term “consensus reality”, it somehow managed to make all the sense in the world, and also sound like bullshit all at the same time. It just sounds like one of those terms that crazy people make

reality - VR
Another wonderful experience in a human-created reality! Thank you for trusting Rekall for your memory needs!

up, that sound scientific, but really are not.

However, when you think about it, and especially in the context of what we know about how the brain perceives and stores information, it makes a lot of sense.

You see, consensus and prior experience (which is also subject to consensus) provide the framework for how we perceive and remember the world around us. This is part of why the Overton Window is such a big deal. Because if you shift the consensus, then you shift the very framework through which people perceive and interact with the world. (Those “culture wars” don’t look so fucking stupid now, do they?)

But how does this all work?

From Senses to Storage

Our senses take in a lot

of information per second. According to the Hungarian-American psychologist, Prof. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, we take in around 2 million bits of information per second through our five senses. Now that’s a massive amount of information, and so it’s probably no surprise that the brain cannot store it all. After all, the brain is like any other storage device – it has finite capacity.

So what does the brain do?

Well, this is where the conscious mind steps in and basically edits, deletes, distorts, and generalizes this information down to a more reasonable 134 bits per second.

Or does it?

There is some disagreement as to the amount of compression taking place here, with the Encyclopedia Britannica citing a compression ratio of 11 million bits of information perceived to 50 bits stored. Which suggests that we remember even less about what we perceive than believed by Prof. Csikszentmihalyi.

The Editing Room

So how does our conscious mind decide what to store and what to dump?
Multiple studies suggest that interpretation and storage of information is massively influenced by prior knowledge and experience. In other words, we interpret what we encounter and build a complete picture of our world, from within the framework of what we think we already know.

This is also where consensus comes in, as part of that prior knowledge is informed by consensus. It is quite literally the ‘style guide’ for your brain’s internal editor.

So when I see arguments online about “reality” that are largely based in the enforcement of the scientific materialist consensus that has dominated for so long, I can’t help but roll my eyes.

Why?

reality - fairy
Unbelievably, Pixabay has no images of fairies wearing roller skates with neon signs. I am disappoint.

Because if you hold to that consensus strongly enough, a fairy could literally skate by you wearing a tutu and leg warmers, with big, flashing lights saying “I’m here!”, and it wouldn’t matter because your brain would just edit it out anyway. It would just be another bit of information out of 2-11 or so million that just gets edited out within less than a second. You wouldn’t even know you’d seen it. Hardly makes you an arbiter of reality, right?

Let’s not kid ourselves here, there is no objective reality when it comes to your senses and what is stored. If anything, the consensus that people cleave to is probably best thought of as being something akin to the Matrix. So why not go ahead and trust your senses (after you’ve ruled everything else out)? Well you know, as long as they’re not leading you to do something harmful to yourself or others…

Hacking ‘Reality’

However, unlike the Matrix, both the brain and consensus are somewhat “hackable”. All you really need to do is just change the narrative and keep repeating the same narrative until it becomes the prior knowledge that “everyone knows”. This is basically how people like Donald Trump get entire groups of people to believe in things that would have been considered too ridiculous to consider even five years ago.

This is also how you can consciously choose to change your perception. Ever wonder why some people always see weird shit and others don’t? It’s all down to perception and the ‘style guide’ your conscious brain editor is working to.

In my opinion, this is a big part of why you see some of these ‘trends’ in the kind of phenomena that people report experiencing around the same time that entertainment media is focusing on similar things. Are people really seeing that stuff, or are those things arising from the energy and belief of the consensus and becoming entities in their own right? Who knows? It’s kind of like Schroedinger’s cat in that we just don’t know and cannot know without somehow opening “the box”. But ultimately it doesn’t matter either – especially for magic workers. Because we tend to have to work with what we encounter, in the form in which we encounter it, and at the time when we encounter it regardless.

(As an aside, this is also why it doesn’t matter what fairies originally were. If you don’t work with what they are now, learning from the people who have continued to experience them, then you’re not only being an arrogant dick to the cultures in which these beliefs still survive, you’re also probably going to run into trouble sooner or later. That is if you’re actually encountering them, of course.)

To return to the main point though, this is also how you can work to hack your brain to see more stuff that you may not otherwise see. And you do this by repeatedly and consistently setting down the layers that change your ‘prior knowledge’ about the world and what is possible. In other words, you demolish that “bridge too far” brick by brick.

Unpacking Realities

All of this talk of a somewhat malleable consensus reality though, does beg the question of whether or not there is an absolute reality that is untouched by consensus. A reality that exists regardless and that serves as the foundation upon which all else is built.

Personally, I think this is something that is self-evident. After all, if we are editing things out to fit in with this created reality of the consensus, then it’s

reality - elephant
“Is it me, or is this reality thing a little cold, hard, and wrinkly?”

logical that the unedited version is the absolute reality, or at least as much as a human can perceive of it. Moreover, if dogs can smell more than us, and mantis shrimp can see colors we cannot even conceive of, then we can infer that this absolute reality is also beyond human concepts.

But what is this absolute reality?

I don’t know, but I personally believe it is one that is interconnected – that we are all connected in a tapestry of energy, consciousness, or whatever other word best fits here. And that the interplay between absolute and consensus realities is best imagined as being like a glass of milk with melted butter floating on top.

This absolute is beyond concepts and limitless. It is also a state in which a magical practitioner who is able to perceive and manipulate even the smallest portion, would not only have greater wisdom, but also possibly the ability to do some truly wondrous stuff.

There’s just one catch though: if this absolute reality is one of interconnectedness, then if you ever get to that level, it’s a cookie either poisoned or blessed by your actions that we must all ultimately eat.

Thank goodness for that psychic censor, right?