(Note: I have offered some interpretations of a few rune poems which are my readings only and should not be seen as “what the poems really mean.” I think my interpretations are reasonable, but I cannot read the minds of their long-dead authors).
So it should be clear by now that for me changeability is an important spiritual pursuit. A shift in consciousness is only a moment away (if only you decide to throw a spanner into the works of the current state you are in).
Of course, its very possible to get stuck. People do it all the time. Sufficient trauma, fear, anger or confusion can trap you in a very restricted range of conscious states for years. Your ability to connect to any kind of magical consciousness is severely inhibited by this restriction. Writers on runes/seid/magic/etc don’t often write about the parts of their lives that aren’t filled with magic, joy, ease, power, spiritual insight, and the rest of it. I think that is dishonest. I think our short-comings and our failures are also a part of our being and deserve to be acknowledged just as much as our wisdom and our creative wealth.
As I’ve discussed before, the root meaning of ergi, appears to be related to trembling, dancing – with a spontaneity so deep-rooted as to be organic. This is any state in which the socialised norms you live by, the defined identity you function within, are scattered to the wind by your pulsing flesh and its ability to shake, sway, hover and shudder.
So the opposite to this embodied magic, this “shameful” seethliness (again see that earlier post) is stillness. Stuckness. Predictability. A human body that is not moving. A body that is completely subservient to the abstractions of ego mind. A body that acts to serve linear, boring, obvious objectives. A body which dwells in the illusion that life is predictable.
For long stretches of my life I lived out stuckness and stillness. There is a particular coldness that can seep through your bones and into your heart. I still go back there fairly regularly, and although it usually doesn’t last long at all, while this stillness is in charge it lays claim to infinity.
That’s right, for all of my celebration of the bodymind’s ability to spontaneously transform I still sometimes allow myself to be fooled by the mythology of ‘everything is always going to be like this’. And of course the more you are convinced that this is the case the more you will act it out, creating a feedback loop filled with lonely despair.
In the Elder Futhark rune row we find two runes, Nauthiz and Isa, lined up consecutively. Nauthiz, Need, is “a difficult circumstance and drudging work”, for in the face of Nauthiz “the naked will freeze in the frost”. Then on the heels of Nauthiz comes Isa, Ice: “a river’s bark, and a wave’s thatch, and doomed men’s downfall” (these quotes are from the Old Icelandic and Old Norse Rune Poems, translated by Sweyn Plowright in his Rune Primer).
The stuckness I speak of, this state in which the magic of both embodied and mental spontaneity is suppressed, is the frost that kills the naked. Exposed to the elements, without protection and without the ability to act, to change, to move, to create safety, to build body heat, to alter circumstances, we are very much needful. As the still coldness comes over us our need becomes greater but it takes more and more effort to spark the fire of change.
The above-quoted Ice poem then expresses, at least in this particular thought experiment, the deception of the stuckness.
On the surface of the ice, freezing to death, there seems no motion, no change, only a stagnation that spirals closer and closer to death. Yet ice is the “river’s bark”. It forms a hard crust but beneath it the water still runs. Beneath the veneer of stillness (dare I say the illusion of a continuous ego?) the reality of change continues on regardless. What a shame to let the smallest and most illusory part of the river, its hard ice surface, determine the needy stagnation and demise of a being once trembling with life force.
The trick is even more wily than this! Perhaps ice is “doomed men’s downfall” because some folks, fooled into thinking its hardness is eternal, suddenly find it gives way and drops them into the roaring currents beneath! What a shock, to have built yourself a psychological ring wall, only to have the ground give way. These are the risks we run when we forget that belief is cheap and change wins.
There is, therefore, a tragic air to the rune poems connected to Need and Ice. An atmosphere of suffering, freezing, dying, through the acceptance of simple illusions.
I am no stranger to these worlds of icy need. I have spent years frozen solid in their depths, or thrust with violence beneath the surface, struggling not to drown as change sweeps me away. It is easy to fear change, especially change that you must create yourself. AS hypothermia begins to kill us we feel the illusion of comfortable warmth. Hence it can sometimes seem that freezing naked in the frost is preferable to taking the risk of breaking the ice and breathing in life.
But I am still here, and so many times I have found my ability to transform and been rescued from the clutches of mono-consciousness. Yet still I have my time in the frozen cave, still I have my times laying out on the bark of the river, cold and shivering.
Perhaps what saves us when we are freezing to death in the rigidity of single-minded consciousness is shivering. If our power to change can be accessed at any time with the shaking, swaying and trembling, then perhaps shivering is the door through which we might escape the seemingly infinite halls of icy despair. We find, in the gateway to the ice-world (Niflheim?), that again our body tries to remind us of its powers. We shiver, our body vibrating and shuddering to generate new warmth and life and change.
Perhaps then Need and Ice also offer a gift – the opportunity to remember our transformative powers. To remember the infinite creativity of the flesh, its embodied spiritual riches. Perhaps those of us who often find ourselves exposed and freezing are being offered a valuable lesson, spiritual instruction.
“Need is tight in the breast; but it often
happens for humans’ children to help and to save
each, if they listen to it early”.
“Ice is over-cold, extremely slippery;
it glistens glass-clear, most like gems;
it is a floor wrought by frost, fair to look upon”.
These are from the Old English Rune Poem, again Sweyn’s translations.
If we listen to the tightness in the breast early it might save us. And as slippery as ice is, nonetheless it is fair to gaze at. Compelling though the illusion of being stuck is, we may find beauty even in the threat of stagnant and rigid death.
Perhaps there is another path into the realms of altered consciousness that seid opens up for us. Perhaps instead of seeking the change, the shift, the movement into other worlds, we could embrace and pursue stillness, rigidity. Perhaps by carrying this intensely icy needfulness to its very end we can pass through it and into the heart of the seething fire. Perhaps we can subvert the seemingly involuntary law of hard ice armour by volunteering for it. Perhaps we can dissolve its unconditional rule by choosing it instead of unwillingly and wretchedly submitting.
“Need is tight in the breast” – perhaps it calls us to recall and rekindle the fire in our hearts, reminds us of the pulsing rhythmic law that rules our blood and our body and the roads of all the worlds. Perhaps there is no need to lament the hard gauntlet of psychophysical rigidity, of illusory ego, of our forgetting of our powers of seething transformation. Perhaps Need and Ice deserve gratitude.
I have ridden far on the back of my horsely unconscious this morning. I have let the waters of reflection spill out into words. Am I cold? Does my frostbite ache? Most certainly. Does my heart feel the weight of constriction? Sadly it does.
But have I recovered my imagination, my flexibility, my memory of the worlds beyond the domain of ice-clad death? I have. When we pass into the lower worlds without guile or motive we sometimes find new roads and camp fires tended by the welcome sight of a one-eyed wanderer. There the naked, freezing in the frost, beguiled or betrayed by ice, might find healing with the hospitality of a god of change. Woden is a god who frees us of fetters (so the Eddas tell us). Perhaps he has power even to dissolve the tightness of cold on the heart that lives to sing.
I am going to start a little experiment of chanting, either inwardly or outwardly, the runes of Need and Ice (you can use whichever of their archaic names seems right) when I find myself struggling with the forces of these runes. Embrace their presence. And see what comes of it.