Følgende er manuskriptet til et foredrag holdt på Himmelbjerggården.
Welcome, all of you, to this second part of my mythopoetic investigation of the Odinic pattern of initiation. Last time we began with an interpretive retelling of Odin’s conquest of the drink of initiation – the mead of poetry. This time, our center of attention will be quite different – not an account of victory and conquest, but a tale of darkness, defilement and destruction. For it is the story of the tragic murder of Baldr.
The intention is to show and amplify how this ominous death of a splendid Son appears at a critical turning point in Odin’s’ wild hunt for himself – not as a tragedy to be feared and mourned, but as a necessary escalation of events that is to be welcomed, even saluted, for everything to take its’ rightful course and be fulfilled as it is foreseen. Not just in the lives of mythical figures, but also in the raw existence of all those individuals, who, having already taken their first steps onto the Path, are compelled to walk the line & suffer the night until the end – where the serpent eats its’ tail, and everything begins.
Or to spell it out in another way: Last time I talked about action as the first key to initiation. This time I will talk about in-action and acceptance – that is, the art of stepping back and letting the stream of events take its own course – as the second key to opening up that peacefully vibrating third state of heart & mind which is to be yearned for as the golden prize of the wise, at the expense of everything else.
Before I go on, I want to – once again – make my approach unmistakably clear. As I told you last time, I am in no way interested in the attempt of reconstructing a specific ‘ancient Nordic mentality’. I don’t believe that can be done or, for that, matter should be done.
Time is a river. There is no going back. The only passable way is to move forward – mindfully following the movements of the stream. Thus, what can be done, and what I am myself trying to do, is to use these mythical images as means and tools to work with in the investigation of what it means for us to be alive and awake, right here, right now.
An obvious aspect of this is that I in no way – and I repeat: in no way at all – claim to give any kind of exhaustive account of the mythical themes I am dealing with. Another aspect is that I feel no obligation, whatsoever, to keep my interpretations ‘clean’. My aim is not to uncover a special kind of purely Nordic Wisdom, but to approach the Nordic sources as particular, local expressions of a certain kind of general knowledge that can indeed be called Wisdom, exactly because it is not tied to a specific time, people and place, but pops up wherever human beings gather around the fire and get serious about their own adventure.
Or, to put it short, so we can get going: This is what it is and nothing else – a subjective, truth-seeking attempt to bring forth some of what lies waiting in the tales and poems of the North.
Ok? – Here we go.
It all begins with dreams of horror, nightmares of terror; a young, courageous, bright and hopeful man who suddenly becomes afraid of the dark, just like a child of vivid imagination, who knows about that simultaneously frightful & promising fact of existential unity, which so many of the so-called adults do their very best to forget – that visions of the night are not without importance for the events of the day.
Baldr awakes in the dark with the haunting images of an uneasy sleep still tormenting his inner eye; this is the end, this is the end of him, and more – the end of all they hoped for, it’s death, darkness and unbound forces of destruction; their world consumed by blood and fire.
He sees it all and fears it all. Baldr, the name means ‘the courageous one’, ‘the brave one’, ‘the bold one’. For that is what he is, or rather, that is what he was, until these soul-eating nightmares took of hold of him: the knight in shining amour, a dreamy ideal of masculine courageousness, the splendid Son of Odin and Frigg – born and raised to be a perfect bringer of glory.
Now suddenly his faith is shaken – and thus their faith is shaken. He shares his story with all the other inhabitants of Asgaard. They stare at him and listen – taken by fear for what is now to come. The written account, as we find it in Snorri Sturluson’s Edda, does not tell us anything specific about what Baldr saw in the frightful visions of the dark – it only says, that “Baldr the Good had violent and evil dreams about his life”. This omission – this blank spot in the narrative – is not a flaw, it is not something missing in the story, but rather an open invitation for us to step inside, a sharpened hook to drag us onboard and start answering the question on our own.
How do we imagine the horrors of Baldr’s night? What kind of inner drama could frighten our hearts and steal away our courage leaving us trembling before the eyes of those we share a world with? As we know: This is all about us. Baldr is an aspect of our psyche – as all the Gods are aspects of our innermost being.
This is not a reduction. I repeat: This is not a reduction. The fact that Gods and Goddesses are archetypal complexes existing both outside of and inside the individual minds of human beings does not make these Gods and Goddesses any less divine, any less real. On the contrary, it makes them more divine, more real – and it makes their stories even more important as instructions for those of us, who want to live, to die and to be transformed through the conscious integration of these archetypal forces, whose energetic patterns both convey the riddle of the World and – when all comes to all – deliver the solution to it.
Now, back to the course of events – imagine this: All gathered in the shade of Yggdrasill, the Tree of Life, the Aesir are laboriously searching hearts and minds for a way forward – a clever method of avoiding that which is foreseen and restoring the famous courage of a now terrified and shivering Baldr.
And here, we are in the blessed situation to be faced with two variations of the story that stress different aspects, but in no way contradict each other – and thus suit each other quite well. One is the standard story as it is recorded in Snorri’s Edda, the other is the poem Baldr’s draumar, which does not tell the whole story, but contains some very interesting elements that are not part of the Snorri-version. So, what we are going to do is to first take a look at the poem and then sail smoothly back into the stream of events as they are depicted by Snorri.
The poem’s opening is the scene of the Aesir gathering to find out what to do about Baldr’s nightmares. The first goes like this, in the translation of Carolyne Larrington:
All together the Aesir came in council*
and all the Asynior in consultation,
and what they debated, those dauntless gods,
was why Baldr was having baleful dreams.
What happens after this is that Odin, true to his fiery will and stormy nature, immediately jumps on his eight-legged horse Sleipnir, that gives him the ability to cross the boundaries between those worlds, which normally remain apart – and so he travels to the Underworld, Helheim, the realm of the dead and of the deepest wisdom of the earth.
Down there, by the use of his transgressive necromantic powers, he succeeds in calling – or rather yelling – forth a visionary woman, a seeress, a völva from her moisty grave of snow, rain and dew. He has questions for her to answer, questions about what is to come.
She asks him who he is. He gives her a false name – as it is his deceitful habit to do; Vegtamr, he says, I am called Vegtamr. It means something like Way-tamer or the Way-accustomed one – that is, the one who has tamed the way / is accustomed to the Way, a Master of the path, a Lord of initiation.
Clearly, she does not want to answer him, but somehow, by continually asking – and yelling –, he binds her attention and forces her to give him what he wants, or at least some of it.
His first question concerns what is to be seen deep down there in the hall of the dead – where several costly rings are lying on the benches and the seats are coated with bright shining gold. Not quite what you would expect of Hell, and so he asks the woman of the drenched earth what all of this is for – who all of this is for.
She answers – again in the translation of Carolyne Larrington:
‘Here mead stands, brewed for Baldr,
clear liquor; a shield hangs above,
and the Aesir are in dread anticipation.
Reluctantly I told you, now I’ll be silent.’
The tables are all set for him who is to journey downwards; a costly, shining drink is ready for the celebration of a royal arrival – the only thing missing is the brave one who must die to fill his seat. Reluctantly I told you, now I’ll be silent – she does not want to go on, but he keeps forcing his will on her:
‘Don’t be silent, seeress! I want to question you,
until all is known, I want to know more:
who will be Baldr’s killer
and who’ll rob Odin’s son of life?’
He gets this answer too. But you don’t – not yet. As we all know: Timing is of the essence. For now, we’ll just hold on to this: He yearns for certainty; he wants to own and master the insights of the Underworld – to grasp and dominate what is to come by knowing what is foreseen.
But in the end the spell is broken – she understands who he is and refuses to let herself be used by someone like him:
sem ek hugða,
heldr ertu Óðinn
You are not Way-tame,
as I thought,
rather you are Odin
You are not someone who has tamed the Way, not someone in accordance with the path of insight – rather you are Odin. The meaning of the name, Óðinn, has already been hinted at; its’ semantic field lies in the intersection of inspiration, madness, poetry and rage. That is, it’s someone who restlessly strives to master the Way; not someone who has attained this goal.
To put it simply: She calls him a liar and clearly states the undesired truth that he is, not the solid center pillar of it all, but really just a windy soul, a flickering flame – pathetically afraid of the perspective of its own extinction.
He answers her – in anger:
You are not a seeress nor a wise woman,
rather you’re the mother of three ogres.
Now, that is exactly the kind of things a feeble male says to a clearsighted female who has seen the weakness in his chest – and exposes it for what it is.
Her answer is to bid him farewell – by ironically encouraging him to ride home and hold on to his bloated self-image:
Ride home, Odin, and be proud of yourself!
May no more men come to visit me,
until Loki is loose, escaped from his bonds,
and the Doom of the Gods, tearing all asunder, approaches.
That is the ending of the poem – that is the Völva’s unmistakable announcement that cosmic events of cataclysmic nature are cooking in the Underworld, and that no man shall have more answers from the women of the deep, before everything finally starts breaking up.
And so, Odin returns to Asgaard, full of rage and unfulfilled ambition – and we return, with curiosity and cheerfulness, to our scene under the World Tree Yggdrasil, where all the Aesir the and Asynjur are gathered to find out how to handle the ominous visions of the brave one. Eventually they reach a conclusion: Someone should go out there beyond the gates of Asgaard to ask them all, to ask it all – to take a precious promise, a solemn oath, of everything existing to never, ever harm the chosen Son of the Aesir.
And this is where the figure of the loving mother enters our story –the name is Frigg; she is the maternal origin of Baldr and the wife of Odin. She lives in a place of her own dominion by the name of Fensalir, which means something like ‘halls of the wetland’ – that is, an area distinguished by the co-existence of the basic feminine elements of water and earth.
Now, this Mother of earth and water gets on the move. She goes to play her part by hastily journeying everywhere to stop the whole, wild world from harming her beloved boy. Fire gives her its promise not to burn him, water swears not to drown him, iron and all other metals willingly accept the Goddess’ request of them to never serve as instruments of his demise; stones, earth, trees, diseases, animals of the ground and birds of the air, poisons and snakes of every kind – all of it and all of them give her their word of honor always and forever to spare the innocent child of this great Queen of the swamps.
So far, so good. She sighs and breathes, deep in and out, finally at home after the anxious whereabouts, finally relieved of that most horrifying burden – to know about the death of your own child. She rests, they feast – the smiles returning to the faces, the sun above them shining bright, now all is well.
What then? We all know that this is not the end; not just because a lot of us are well-acquainted with this particular story, but also because we intuitively know quite a bit about the logic of storytelling – the laws of all narrative art. And what we know is this:
It’s gotta be like – life.
Sure, in stories, not the least in mythical stories, a whole lot of things can happen and are allowed to happen that do not happen in the lives of most of us, but one thing is always certain: Harmony cannot be prematurely achieved. No easy victory is allowed. The going hasto get tough, before it gets smooth. By looking at the world and by gazing into the abyss of ourselves, we know that this is the way it has to be.
You’ve got to lose it all to win it all.
That is, you’ve got to willingly leave behind the shining piece of fake jewelry which you, in your ignorance and forgetfulness, have for so long time been calling ‘yourself’, in order to, finally, one day become a happy fool among the living, joyously acting out the role that was originally assigned and chosen, when the cards were dealt.
This they did not know, not yet – and so some of the Aesir arranged a soulless spectacle, a show of mindless entertainment with Baldr as the invulnerable center of attention. Thus, in their undignified desire for amusement they took turns striking, shooting and throwing weapons and deadly items of all kinds against the impenetrable body of the courageous one, who no matter what they came up with, was never hurt, nor even scratched.
Did he enjoy it? He probably did. He probably loved and lived for that pathetic look of admiration in their eyes – truth is, that many men would:
Oh, look how courageous he is; oh, see how firm he stands there in the middle of the storm of steel, nothing can harm him – all hail our glorious hero!
Or with the laconic words of Snorri Sturluson: “No matter what was done, he suffered no harm, and everybody thought that was very honorable.” Well, off course they did. Crowds always do. Crowds always choose their heroes and worship them as idols – as carriers of public projections, unconscious urges, un-balanced hopes and infantile desires.
Until, some sunny day, a weak point suddenly appears in the armor of our shining knight, or maybe some sort of secret weapon shows up, and he is violently taken by those forces of the Underworld that he, in his delusion of grandeur, has challenged and awakened by the reckless claim to be a perfect hero – never to be harmed.
In comes – Loki, the sneaky, sharp-witted trickster figure of the North; a Jotun by birth, but an inhabitant of Asgaard by the mixture of his essence with that of Odin – a blood brother of many talents, both indispensably clever and an agent of destruction. In short, a catalyzing force and ingredient in all relations, a revealer of the repressed, a bringer of change, for better and for worse – quite often both.
He sees this dishonorable circus act of Baldr the invincible – this apish mockery of bravery – and does not like it. A pointless scenery, ill-suited for the mighty Gods of Asgaard – an arrogant display of pride, unjustified for any living being under the laws of Destiny.
He immediately knows what to do, because that is just how, what and who he is – always ready to act and eager to escalate. So, he transforms himself into an innocently looking woman – and goes in this disguise to meet and greet the female head of Asgaard. As Frigg sees this loveable lady approaching her, she is, it seems, lured into a dangerous sympathy of gender, an automatic expectation that the woman in front of her could never be an enemy of hers – and so it is not Loki in his female form who first opens addresses the Queen, but the Queen who addresses the stranger by asking her if she knows what the Aesir are up to – why they are assembled, and what they are doing.
From Snorri’s account it’s not clear, whether Frigg asks this, because she really does not know what is going on and somehow assumes the woman to be more informed, maybe because she comes walking from the place, where the Aesir are gathered, which probably just means the males among the Aesir – or, whether Frigg asks the newcomer this question, because she feels like showing off; that is, because she’s got an urge to brag about her splendid son, who has now, as the result of the selflessly dedicated efforts of his loving mother, become immortal, victoriously raised above the laws of the Nornir.
One way or the other, the answer of Loki the Lady is quite factual; she simply tells Frigg that the Aesir are using Baldr as a living target, that no harm is done – and that everybody is having such a great time.
This answer obviously pleases the mother, and so, now that someone is there to listen, she starts talking about her own achievement – in Snorri’s account she simply says:
No kind of weapon or tree shall harm Baldr, I have received a promise from all of them.
Hearing the mother talk like this, Loki instinctively knows that he has won her confidence and that this woman is so eager to talk about her herself and her precious offspring, that she will tell him everything he wants to know – and so he asks:
Have all things really made their promise to spare the life of Baldr?
We know the answer – obviously something was forgotten, obviously somewhere out there, and in here, there is that which can indeed drain out the essence of Asgaard’s chosen Son. Frigg happily answers the curious woman – it seems she has, like so many others of the living, not learned to recognize the time and place to keep your silence:
A small sprout grows west of Valhalla. It’s called a mistletoe. I thought it was too young to be demanded the oath.
Too young to be demanded the oath, to harmless to be feared – now, that is exactly how a mistletoe behaves at first. It is a slow-moving parasite. At first it really just is a tiny sprout nestled in the bark of a tree, quite often an apple tree or an oak tree. Only later, as it grows and spreads, does it become an inhibiting – sometimes even deadly – factor in the life of the host. Its seeds are to be found inside its shiny white berries; a much-applauded meal of birds, who, as they chew them, get all greased up by the sticky, semen-like content – and then, when they land in another tree, unknowingly serve the function of bringing the slimy seeds from one place to the other.
For humans these berries, as well as the plant itself, has the interesting effect of being at the same time poisonous, for children even deadly, and – some say – a natural remedy for curing certain bodily imbalances, such as arthritis, high blood pressure, epilepsy, infertility and even cancer. In short, the mistletoe is, what the Greeks of old would call a pharmakon – a pharmaceutical agent both to be dealt with as a poison and a medicine. Just like the venom of zertain animalz.
You get the picture? It’s all connected. Nature and myth are beautifully aligned in a meticulous web of correspondences with the strange and blessed ability of making the mind that wholeheartedly dives into it – rested and illumined.
Now, Loki knows where to look and what to look for – he leaves behind the mother and goes to seek and find the deadly agent. Having found it he returns to the playful Aesir and centers in on him, who is to be the next escalating factor; a fighting man bereft of vision.
Höðr – his name simply means ‘warrior’. He is the blind brother of Baldr; the critically impaired male child of the loving, all too loving, mother and the madly raging father – the destructive shadow of our courageous son.
Until now he has been standing in the distance, passively listening to the sounds of the circus act of Baldr the Brave; rejected, neglected, happily forgotten and forcefully repressed as an undesired aspect – a sibling not fitted to participate in the glorious spectacle of his celebrated brother.
Loki approaches him and asks him why he isn’t shooting at Baldr like the rest of the Aesir. Höðr answers him that being blind and having no weapon at hand he does not really see how he could. Loki – forever the catalyst of change & escalation – cheerfully replies that Höðr really should play his part in honoring his brother, and that Uncle Loki will be happy to help and guide him by turning him in the right direction and giving him a branch to throw.
Yes, a branch to throw – in most retellings this branch has turned into an arrow, shot by a bow, directed by the hand of Loki. That’s a fine image too – quite true to the soul of the logic of myth, where variety is a symptom unity.
So, you just go ahead and picture it anyway you want to – or anyway it chooses to present itself inside of you. The essence remains the same: An innocently looking, ever-green branch of mistletoe that was – and is – so soft and flexible brought the dreams of death and darkness to their foreseen fulfilment.
Now, for a moment stretching all the way into eternity, everybody is silent – horrified and taken by what they have just seen; a promised Son suddenly sinking, a hero vanquished by a simple parasite – a bloated, overgrown ego, finally and rightfully, succumbing to a slowly working poison.
But they don’t get it. A windy hope persists. A vain ambition still inhabits them. And so, they mourn and cry the tears of fear and of regret – all struck by grief and evil expectations for what is to become of them, now that their center of attention is nowhere to be found. The mother speaks – in a mindless repetition of the neurotic pattern that has already failed her so badly:
It must be possible to bring him back – oh, hear me now, all men of arms, the one of you who will set out to cross the boundaries of worlds and journey all the way to Helheim to ask the darkened Goddess down there, if she will let my precious go for a suitable payment – I promise you by all my heart and soul, that he shall win my love and blessings for all eternity to come.
Who might it be? Here comes – Hermóðr, an until now, completely anonymous son of Odin, whose name is a composite noun consisting of the word for ‘army’, her, and móðr, which designates something like ‘mind’, ‘courage’ ‘spirit’, ‘demand’, ‘desire’, and ‘yearning’, that is the basic intentionality of something or someone – the mentality behind a certain kind of operations.
To put it short, let’s just call him the army mentality – for that is what he is; an impersonal representative of the warrior hive mind, an anonymous embodiment of those who loved to see and salute their hero in the act of taking shot and now desires to make a name for himself by securing his return.
And so, two things happen at the same time – Odin borrows Hermóðr Sleipnir for him to cross over and journey downwards, while the rest of the Aesir prepare a spectacular funeral for Baldr by placing his earthly remains on the marvelous ship that used to carry him over the waters of the world back when he was alive and now is to serve its final function by being set aflame and shoved out into the open sea with its dead owner onboard.
As Baldr’s wife Nanna sees the body of her husband being brought onto the ship, her heart bursts from sorrow – she dies with her beloved, and the two of them are placed next to each other. The name, Nanna – several suggestions have been given on the meaning of it; one is that it’s a babbling word of children simply meaning mother and thus a general designation for a woman, another is that it’s connected to the ability of action – so Nanna should mean ‘she who empowers’.
Obviously these two interpretations are in no way mutually excluding – and the bottom line clearly is that Nanna, as the forceful female component of a psychic unity of contrasts, by necessity follows her dissolved male counterpart into the fire – or, to put it Indian terms; that Shakti follows Shiva in his descent to the Underworld.
Behind them follows Hermóðr on Sleipnir. Nine nights he steadfastly journeys through darkness and deep valleys, until he comes to a golden-layered bridge crossing the river Gjǫll;a name that means something like noisy – which is a most fitting designation, because you really do have to get past a lot of noise to reach the interior, bright shining parts of the Underworld.
On this bridge he meets a female figure, a keeper of the crossing, who asks him about his name and heritage. Her name is Móðguðr, it is a composite noun consisting of Móðr, which just means something like ‘mood’ and guðr, which means battle – which is most fitting, for she is the kind of female guardian a man must face when he tries to pass the bridge deep down there to enter the concealed realms of the darkened Goddess.
She tells him that the sound of him crossing the bridge is far louder than the five army brigades that passed it yesterday, and she comments on the color of his skin; he is noisy like the living and does not have the beautifully wax-like glow of the dead. Why are you here, she asks – why are you travelling the road of Hell? He tells her that he has come to find Baldr and asks her, if she might have seen him. Yes, she has, she says – and gives him the direction: Hell’s road leads downwards and to the North.
Arriving at the walls of Helheim itself, he crosses the gate by making Sleipnir jump over it and walks inside the hall of Hell to search for his brother. Finding him is not a problem.
He sits there at the highest seat of the hall as someone who is clearly recognized for what he really is – a royal Son of the Earth. Hermóðr spends the night there, and in the morning, he states his business to the Lady herself.
Hel – it means ‘the one who conceals’, ‘the concealer’, for that is what she is, the Great Goddess of the Underworld whose veil of darkness shelters the mystery of mysteries, so only the dead can recognize her for what she really is.
She tells Hermóðr that his brother will be allowed to go back to the living, if only one single – and all-encompassing – condition is fulfilled: Everyone must mourn him, every living soul must cry for Baldr.
Thus, Hermóðr journeyed back with hopes up high, and everybody did their very best to make the whole world weep. But – obviously – there was a single soul, just one, who stubbornly refused to share the salty stream of eyes.
It was a Jotun-woman by the name of þǫkk – which curiously enough means ’thanks’. When the messengers of the Aesir came to ask for her compassion, she answered that she would rather let the Goddess down there keep him, where she had him, and thus would only ever weep dry tears for the deceased.
Rumor has it, this woman was yet another appearance of Loki in a female form – who thus not only got his will, but also played his necessary and beneficial part in the fulfilment of what had been foreseen.
For that is, what this story is all about – it’s about the insurmountable fact that nobody, no man, nor woman, should ever think that destiny can be escaped.
That is the harsh and ego-offending outer layer of our mythopoetic nut. It must be fully acknowledged, the nut must be willfully crushed with splintering teeth, for its soft and nourishing content to be accessed. The surrender must be complete. The understanding must be uncompromised. The acceptance must be total.
The truth is this: The darkened Goddess of the Underworld is, was and always will be our rightful Queen. It is no way – in no way whatsoever – an injustice of the World or a mistake of Nature that we must die. It is exactly as it should be.
The Universe is always right.
That is the one and only gate of Understanding, and when someone finally kneels before this premise of it all; when an individual existence, who has indeed become accustomed to the path, willingly abdicates from all of his, or her, self-centered cravings for personal immortality, the veil of concealment is gracefully lifted for the initiate to see what kind of luminous Great Mother the darkened Goddess really is, and how – when all is one, and one is all – that which is below, is exactly like that, which is above.
As you all sense, this is the end. All that remains is for a riddle to be voiced; an indication to be passed along for everyone to follow on their own – a seed to be inserted and slowly grow wherever possible.
How did it look down there? What was it that was seen, but not understood, by the two transgressors, Odin and Hermóðr, as they hastily stepped into the hall of the dead? They saw it all prepared – the tables set, the benches layered with bright shining gold, the clearest liquid ready to be served. They did not get the message. This is the truth:
Death is a feast.
Oh, blessed be all living souls who die before their bodies – peacefully submitting to the healing poison of the darkened Mother, whose purpose is to bring them home. The drink she brews down there is not one of intoxication, but of a uniquely sobering effect: It clears both mind & heart – by taming the fires of the I that kept them separated.
Let it be known and remembered, that no man, nor woman, can steal this drink; it is for Her alone to give, and this she freely does to everyone who shuts the mouth – and dies.
So, don’t worry – be happy. Depression is the misty basis of ascension. Dawn is a child of the dark. Death is, indeed, a part of life, as life is a part of death. You will stay safe, if only you remember that there will be a time, when the best thing to do is nothing, there will be passages where in-action is the answer, and the boldest move is to surrender – and sink. Here is the secret that will take you there: It is not dangerous to die.
Those were the words. Thank you for listening.