“In the depth of winter, I finally learned that within me there lay an invincible summer” – Albert Camus.
At the end of my recent article “On Being Stuck” I suggested that I would experiment with the application of the runes of Need and Ice (or Nauthiz and Isa in the Proto-Germanic) to deal with the feeling of stuckness, coldness and despair.
I’ve had recourse to these runes on three occasions since then. Each time they have indeed helped me to move from stuckness to stillness and from stillness to fluid action.
Each time I either thought about or chanted the runes. The first time I used them to help myself feel better the change was immediate. Just thinking about their significance, their power to pass through the constriction, the cold, the hard armour of the winter river – it made it impossible for me to stay in my corner of shadow.
A similar trick occurred next time, with the difference that this time I chanted the runes and pretty soon had a good spontaneous sway going too, a bit of seething-style seidh. I felt like a veil of cold poured backwards away from me and dissolved. I felt free, flexible, warm, my heart beating strongly again.
The third occasion was some chanting I did with Donovan. As always we explored some wild territory, rasping, singing, roaring, screeching, droning. Every time we do magic together we manage to get a little more relaxed, focussed, and intense. I think this bit of magic unblocked some things for both of us, psychologically speaking.
The speculative idea I had – that embracing Need and Ice, the vanguard of stuckness/stillness/coldness, can produce transformation where even transformative fire dares not tread – has born immediate fruit. One of the outstanding elements of this approach is that it runs with the direction that the pattern of wyrd is already headed. Instead of resisting the shadows and cold we turn with their tide. At their heart we find their negation and come forth out the other end.
There is not even the fear of going back that more obvious or pro-active responses to such spiritual coldness can create, forged partly from anxiety as such fiery responses are. I have found a way of walking frozen, subterranean roads with total yielding, yet without being destroyed in that yielding.
From these recent and promising experiences I must say that Need and Ice represent a kind of transformative passivity. They require us to respond to the circumstance – “in this weather we must build fire” (Neurosis) – but the response is founded on a acceptance of what cannot be changed, only turned with. Even a negative wyrd can be ridden to a positive outcome, like tacking against the wind to take your ship home to its port.
Ice offers the illusion of immutability, but now I see the illusion as illusion as well as an invitation to despair. The two forces cancel one another out when we embrace them, leaving us, slightly dumbfounded, in the clutch of spring.
I started this article with a quote from an existentialist philosopher, Albert Camus. Apart from the immediate relevance of the quote I chose it deliberately because I see heathenism as being an existentialist spirituality.
For all the belief in gods, giants, elves, other worlds, magic, mystery and the unknowable order of wyrd the heathens of old were necessarily very practical, this-worldly people. I suppose living in old Europe with limited technology, close to the earth and the seasonal cycles, you just had to be to survive. They seemed to regard one’s actions in this world as more important than any particular afterlife or cosmic plan.
They might have been animists – recognising the living spirit of all things – rather than materialists/nihilists as the existentialist philosophers tend to be. But the same attitude – that this life is what matters – is shared by heathen and existentialist.
So the idea that we can overcome shadow, ice and despair by following the path of Need and Ice into their heart – rather than resisting, fleeing or bowing down to some transcendental ideal – well, I guess this recent foray of mine into Need and Ice magic is a kind of existential rune magic.
I should add that although here I am celebrating a this-worldly, existentialist attitude to heathenism, I am by no means dismissing the other-worldly aspects of Germanic mythology/folk lore, nor the otherworldly and transformative magical elements of heathenism.
Indeed my own native tendency is towards otherworldliness – even as a child I identified with the changeling folk stories of the Brother Grimm, in which an elven or otherwise otherworldly child is mistakenly left with human parents to great anguish and difficulty. It has been a long struggle to even become as this-worldly as I now am, and I am a long way from where I would like to be.
So I am certainly not arguing for the more boring, anti-spiritual model of heathenism in celebrating a kind of existential approach to heathen spirituality. Rather I am finding with relief that as I embrace this life I slowly discover the ways that I can exert power in this reality, to make at least some part of it turn to alignment with my own nature and being. The magic of Need and Ice represents a powerful step for me along this path.
Of course, most people must struggle with the question of their own power to effect meaning and change in the world. Indeed, Alfred Adler’s model for the cause of psychological problems was the “inferiority complex”, which occurs because when we are children we really are mostly powerless in this world of adults. To lead happy and successful adult lives we need to unlearn this powerful lesson of growing up so that we can act with strength and confidence.
Perhaps Need and Ice could offer an initiatory doorway for those of us struggling with this-worldiness (whether due to our age, character or fears). Face death without struggle and who knows what might come of it?
“Give up what thou hast, and then thou wilt receive” (Jung).