Like many mornings during this period of time many call Tower Time, I woke up to a message from a friend about “weird shit.” My friend was asking me if I’d seen John Beckett’s most recent blog post. You may have already seen it as it’s doing the rounds. But in case you haven’t, it’s about an oracular ritual during the Mystic South conference and the messages received by some of the participants.
I’m going to be honest here: None of these messages are particularly surprising to me. If anything, much of it tallies with what I’ve been getting from other sources.
But there’s one message in particular that I want to focus on today. It’s the message that there must be joy or “Fenris will eat the world.”
Wolves and Greed
On the surface, Bergrune’s message (an oracle I know personally) may sound simplistic and strange. But I’ve found myself turning it over and over in my mind. This past weekend I taught the second in a two-part series of classes about Animistic Heathenry and magic in which greed was a major talking point. This message dovetails nicely with my current meditations on how best to deal with greed.
In her book The Seed of Yggdrasill, Maria Kvilhaug points out that wolves are associated with greed in the ON sources. This is something Snorri is quite clear on in Skáldskaparmál, the text in which he teaches the art of writing and understanding the language of poetry.
“But these things have now to be told to young poets who desire to learn the language of poetry and to furnish themselves with a wide vocabulary using traditional terms; or else they desire to be able to understand what is expressed obscurely.”
Sturluson, Snorri. Skáldskaparmál (Faulkes trans.). p. 64.
Those of you who are already familiar with Norse mythology will probably already know the names of Óðins wolves: Geri and Freki. Both names are words that mean “greed,” and both names can be used as common nouns for “wolf” in skaldic poetry (Sturluson. 135, 164). Along similar lines, it was also considered normal to refer to wolves in relation to blood and corpses as their food and drink (Sturluson 135).
The Meanings in the Myth
From Maria Kvilhaug’s perspective (which I share), the ON myths are not simply stories of gods and other beings. They contain true wisdom if you know how to look for it. Kvilhaug is someone who’s learned how to look for it. And if we listen to her, we can learn to look for it too.
Bergrune’s message mentioned Fenrir, which inescapably leads us to the Ragnarök myth – an appropriate choice in our collapsing world.
So, what wisdom can we find in the myth of Ragnarök? What lesson can we take from this?
As a wolf, Fenrir may be thought to represent greed, and greed brings destruction. His opponent at Ragnarök is Óðinn, the giver of our breath-soul. We should ask ourselves here about the possible meanings of the god who gave breath-souls to humans falling to greed.
To me, the battle between this soul-giving deity – one of our creators even – and greed indicates that this isn’t only a battle for gods. It is a battle that we humans face too.
The Nature of Greed
There are surprisingly few psychological studies about the causes of greed. But what I managed to dig up seems to suggest that greed often has its roots in feelings of lack, unmet physical/emotional needs, and anxiety about future struggles.
But what about countering greed? Here is where we can perhaps take wisdom from another myth of Fenrir.
Binding the Wolf
In Gylfaginning, the gods read prophecies predicting destruction by Loki’s children and decide to act. Snorri tells us they cast Hel into Niflheim and Jörmungandr into the ocean. With Fenrir though, they brought him home and raised him in their halls. But as he grew bigger, they became increasingly afraid and decided to try binding Fenrir with chains.
Here is where my personal conclusions diverge from Kvilhaug’s. This is only to be expected; a myth can be read from multiple perspectives and hold more than one truth.
The first chain is Læðing, which Kvilhaug translates as “Harm Council” (Kvilhaug 442). She also provides a second possible translation, but I’ll refrain from providing that here as it diverges from the points I want to make.
This idea of a chain called “Harm Council” reminds me of the kind of measures many attempt to overcome negative qualities. You’re probably already familiar with the kind of measures I mean. Everything from cruel self-talk, strict self-discipline (then more self-talk when it fails), and in extreme cases mortifying the flesh. In a sense, when we put it this way, it’s not hard to see those measures as a “council of harms.”
This will probably come as no surprise to anyone who’s ever dealt with addiction. But it doesn’t take long for Fenrir to break that chain.
The second chain is Drómi, which means “Fetters.” An important point Kvilhaug makes is that “fetters” is a common metaphor for the gods themselves in Skaldic poetry. When viewed through this lens, I’m reminded of people who cling to religion and the imagined wrath of a deity as a way to keep themselves in line. To force themselves into what they see as better, more virtuous behaviors.
This lasts longer. But in the end, Fenrir breaks that too.
Binding the Wolf and the River of Hope
The final chain was, Gleipnir, or “Open One,” a silk-like binding that they used to bind the wolf to a giant stone slab on an island. At first glance, this is reminiscent of an oubliette. This island is not only a place to bind a potential future danger, but to forget about it as well. But we’re not yet done here, because Fenrir reacted violently and tried to bite them. From his perspective, this was likely a grave betrayal; after all, they were his foster family, and that meant a lot back then.
In response to his lashing out, the gods stabbed him through the roof of his mouth with a sword. A clear foreshadowing of the final doom he would meet at Viðarr’s hand. Then, they left him howling in pain and drooling. We’re told his saliva forms a river called “Hope” (Sturluson. 29).
As always, hope is often the only thing to continue flowing when we’re otherwise trapped and/or in pain.
Of course, those bindings didn’t work either in the long run. If anything, I’d argue those actions only made everything worse. As with all prophecies, you run the risk of fulfilling them yourself if you’re not careful – something that becomes especially likely the more afraid you are.
There’s a lot to take from this myth, a lot to notice about our society. Like the gods, we prefer the wolf bound in a place where we can forget about it or pretend it doesn’t exist. Kvilhaug translates the name of the waters surrounding the island (Ámsvartnir) as “Deep Darkener,” which for me at least, suggests a kind of oblivion (Kvilhaug 441). How many people even engage with the notion that greed is a serious and dangerous problem? That the act of non-stop consumption at the root of so many of our modern problems is something we need to reckon with before we bring about our own Ragnarök?
The message that Bergrune relayed, that message to embrace joy as a way of countering the “greed-wolf” seems simple on the surface. But here we need to ask ourselves how possible it is to feel real joy when you have unmet needs/a sense of lack/anxieties about the future that are so great they’ve collectively created a hole within your self and souls? A hole that seems bottomless and spurs an insatiable hunger to fill.
Here is where I believe the advice given via other oracular messages comes in.
These messages encourage us to interrogate those shadowy areas of self and souls. The advice to seek out those holes within us that gape like the maw of a wolf and try to understand them is excellent. It is also I believe, our way forward.
Because if we are to experience joy, real joy, then we need to first sit with our own greed-wolves and get to know them. As the myth of binding Fenrir hopefully demonstrates, we can’t bind them or pretend they don’t exist. Would not the wiser path be to figure out what drives them – the hurts in the holes and what they really want?
The wolf within isn’t inherently bad, just very good at what they do. They’re hunters at heart, and in turn directed by the heart and its ever-changing sea of emotions and hurts in their efforts. Again, they’re not inherently bad. I would argue these “wolves” are a part of self – a soul even. If you follow Winifred Hodge-Rose’s Soul Lore work, this would be the hugr-soul.
But who could these “wolves” be when cared for and those anxieties removed?
Over the millennia, they’ve helped us to get food and stay safe. They’ve been our companions, workers, family members, protectors, and friends. Those wolves contributed immeasurably to the success of our species and eventually became dogs.
If you live with dogs and they’re anything like my little old man, you’ll know they show their love, pleasure, and joy in the most uninhibited and lovely ways. As a kid, my parents impressed upon me the importance of always raising dogs with love, kindness, and care; outside of genetic issues, the problems usually come when you raise them without those things. But when raised with love, care, and their needs (physical, yes, but more than that, the need for pack and to belong) provided for, they become life-long companions and true friends.
And this, I think, is where we find the key to our question.
A Life’s Work
In a sense, I believe we’re each born with a canine. But whether we end our lives with a canine that becomes a greed-wolf, a domesticated wolf, or even a dog is largely up to us. I see the process of getting to know that canine and taming them as part of the work of a well-lived life. It’s a challenge on the path to wisdom, a peril to the wise, and part of how we find victory in our own personal Ragnarök. The message was to “fight” the wolf with joy. But without first getting to know the “wolves” in our hearts, without that attention, love, and care – without healing the hurts of those holes – that joy will be hard to come by.
Throughout my time as a magic-worker, I’ve noticed that when it comes to working with others, several things seem to hold true. This post is going to take a look at four of those things.
People *want* you to build them a mystery
Regardless of whether or not a person is your client or a potential student, very often, that person has a mental image of how what you do should look like, and for all they’re decried, sometimes the ‘Dog and Pony show’ can be useful for this very reason (it can also simply just be the tradition of the group in question).
As a magic worker, I understand the importance of ritual, of building those actions and setting the scene for that *shift* to occur. It can be useful when your mind is being more of a chattering monkey than usual. It can be useful in getting the non-active participants into the right frame of mind. You see, depending on who you speak to, ritual either works to facilitate an internal psychological shift that allows the individual to get past whatever mental blocks were hindering them and allowing change (something which Terry Pratchett referred to as ‘Headology’), or it works via that far less intangible medium that we call ‘magic’.
However, there comes a point where this becomes problematic. It’s no longer that which facilitates and enables, it’s the whole *point* of the exercise.
And it will suck a person in as surely as a black hole.
When inhabiting a mystery, there is no rational thought, there is no consideration of the subtleties that are happening, or indeed if there is consideration, it’s interpreted from within the mindset of what atheists call ‘magical thinking’. And it doesn’t matter what that person is interpreting, even running out of something in your cupboards at the wrong time can be interpreted as some kind of ‘sign’.
Now this probably sounds like a weird thing for a self-described ‘magic-worker’ to discuss. Almost like I don’t believe in magic, right? That it’s ALL headology.
While headology is a good and useful (very useful) part of a magic-worker’s repertoire, magic – at least real magic – is rarely how we think it’s going to look, and it’s far simpler than we might imagine. The fact of the matter is, the rituals, the garb, the tools, the drums – none of that is actually needed. We do it because the dog and pony show is paradoxically easier than doing it without. But to forget the role of the dogs and ponies…well, as I said before, that’s where trouble starts. Moreover, you miss what’s actually real.
People want the shortcuts to somehow work
In a way, this sort of plays back into the ‘building a mystery’ section, as the mystery can be one big shortcut in a lot of ways.
When you bake a cake, you typically cream your butter and sugar, then add your eggs, flour and milk (and whatever else). At no point does anyone say, “Well, I don’t have flour, so I’ll just omit it, it’ll be fine, I’ll have cake!”, no, you have to substitute it for something similar that performs the same function as flour in the recipe. However, when it comes to magic, people never want to work on their mental discipline, which is as key to magic as the flour in a cake. Again and again, I hear people lament that meditation and/or visualisation is just too hard, and that they just ‘can’t’ do it.
Let me get this straight, most humans can do these things. It’s just that meditation and visualisation take work, practice, and losing the fear of failure at something that looks so easy from the outside.
Meditation is hard, visualisation is hard, these are skills that have to be built up by the practitioner, and along the way, you also get the bonus of developing mental discipline and your Will.
There are no shortcuts when it comes to this, you put the work in and have it, or don’t, and well…don’t.
People gravitate to the ‘wolves’
I have lost count of how many times I’ve seen this over the years; perfectly good people interested in magic and getting taken in by a charismatic wolf in sheep’s clothing. In fact, I heard about another case of this, this weekend just gone!
Thankfully, when you know what you’re looking for, these sweater-wearing wolves are easy to spot.
1. Do they have a discernible goal from being around you? What is it? Some of these folks use magical learning as a way to secure sexual favours from the naive. Others use it to feed their desire for power over others. Is anything that they want to do, or do, in violation of your bodily sovereignty?
2. Do they give you what you want? In other words, do they ever correct you or tell you you’re wrong about something, or do they allow you to labour under false ideas (as long as you don’t question them)?
3. Do you ever *actually* learn from them, or do they mostly tell you that you’re learning (and progressing) and yet you can’t actually quantify what you’ve learned?
4. How does the thought of bringing up a disagreement with them feel? How does the atmosphere in the room feel when you disagree even respectfully?
5. Is there a reliance on building the mystery as opposed to emphasis on the actual skills? Are people encouraged to stay locked within the mystery?
People will gravitate to the chaotic thinking they understand it better than ancestors that eschewed it
We live in the age of the underdog and the anti-hero. Our villains are portrayed in film as having a hidden sensitive and misunderstood side that just lures an audience in. We learn to forgive the negative because, “Oh look, he’s not a pure bastard, he’s *redeemable*!”
When looking at figures from mythology, figures that people now worship again, that mentality transfers over with some people, and beings that were given offerings to keep them away, are now being taken for ‘patrons’. There’s a romance there that our ancestors would have found truly puzzling.
Over the years, I’ve seen many take this path, and a good number of them have their luck turn to poo. Instead of accepting the cause of their troubles, they turn to other gods and beings to try and fix matters, and in the most extreme cases, they become serial ‘luck grabbers’. Jumping from deity to being, fostering a reciprocal relationship, and then moving on to the next once the initial excitement wears off.
Typically when questioned, they’ll talk philosophically about how chaos and order need to be balanced in the world, not once considering that maybe it’s plenty ‘balanced’ and doesn’t need any ‘help’ from them.
And that’s the thing, natural chaos that happens organically is good, natural chaos strengthens and leads to overcoming and growth. Inviting more in just makes no sense.
We humans are complex creatures, and as products (mostly) of societies that are based largely in a religious worldview that devalues personal power, and values complexities, it can be hard to discern what’s actually needed and what is simply fulfilling a psychological need.
I’ve had a few teachers over the years, and though not always in a formal format, without exception, each of them emphasised the importance of developing the skill of discernment when it comes to working with anyone in any capacity.
More than being able to discern spiritual or social matters, the skill of discernment teaches us something far more important – to know ourselves, our motivations, and how they affect our actions.
For it’s all too easy to fall into a trap when you’re not looking where you’re going.