An initial question to pose, following last week’s journal entry, is this: how might we unblock and expand our conduit to the waters of the tree? And the related question – how might we make ourselves a more fitting vessel for the waters?
Intimately connected to the task of making oneself a fit vessel is the question of how we then invite the waters to flow through us. I think there is actually some overlap between the two tasks – the task of making oneself a good vessel and the task of attracting the flow of the waters.
These are nevertheless distinct undertakings and I will therefore consider them as such, although ultimately both tasks call upon us at the same time – we might find ourselves shifting from one to the other quite smoothly. They tend to also help one another build momentum; it is very difficult to get anywhere if we focus on one of the tasks to the exclusion of the other.
For our purposes, there are three aspects to being a good vessel for the flow of the waters of life (as Bil Linzie calls them). Firstly we must be open so that the waters can enter us. Secondly we must be strong and flexible to allow them rich and full manifestation. Thirdly we must be sufficiently non-attached that they can pass away back into the Wells once more.
As with the two tasks, these three aspects of being a good vessel are interrelated; we undertake all three simultaneously. As such, practices which engage all of these aspects are particularly useful.
A word on UPG and the question of deriving modern heathen magical techniques from historical lore is in order at this point.
As far as UPG goes, I consider the approach to Germanic spirituality I am here exploring to be well grounded in both lore and personal experience (mine and other peoples’). As such I am dispensing with further exposition/justification – if you aren’t clear on where I am coming from you need to read some of my other journal entries, such as the first Xylem & Phloem post.
While there is a sound argument that we must derive magical practices from historical lore, I personally am not so attached to this. What matters to me is the experience, not so much the method.
Of course the method used influences the kind of experience we have, but as I’ve noted before, listening to or performing black metal is just as berzerkergang inducing as biting a shield before entering combat. So let us not split hairs!
The most important thing is to be true to the spirit, the essence, of heathen magic. Plenty of material I’ve read on strict reconstructed magical technique is dry, uninspired and leaves one with the impression that the author in question has never actually practiced any of their tricks.
Right, here we go with five general things you can do to become a better vessel.
Yes, I know, there really isn’t any evidence that heathen magicians did this sort of thing. But their Indo-European cousins and ancestors did (and do) – and given how much Edred Thorrson relies on that connection in the Nine Doors of Midgard I think its safe for me to do the same (gosh, I’m so bloody open about my ‘inauthentic’ influences, don’t you think?)
Meditation is a word which gets used in many different ways. I mean it in its most basic form – stilling and focussing one’s conscious mind. I have been meditating every day for the last three or so weeks and it makes a huge difference.
My method is quite basic – I just lie down, set my alarm, and then watch my breath going in and out. Soon all kinds of thoughts, feelings, images, etc rise up and my mind begins wandering off the task. And then after a bit of that I realise I’ve lost the plot and come back to the breath again.
Simple! And after a while of practicing this you will find two things happen.
One: you find yourself going into a deep state where your conscious mind is completely quiet (though sometimes afterward you may have a hazy memory of images or colours that you cannot quite grasp).
Two: You start to experience just how random and arbitrary your everyday thoughts and feelings are. This is a great relief, it just gives that little bit of pause and perspective. The less ruled I am by the circumstances I am in, the more able I am to open a space within for the waters to flow through.
I view meditation as being like pouring water out of a pitcher so that new, fresh water can then be poured in. If we don’t empty the pitcher of the mind periodically then we can get blocked up, stuck on the same thought and feeling patterns and habits. This clogs us up and we become less able to contain, absorb and release the waters of life.
Its important to remember with this practice that it doesn’t matter if you mind wanders from the breath (or whatever else you choose to focus on). The point is just that you eventually notice what has happened. The important skill is the ability to become aware of what your consciousness is doing instead of just being swept along with it.
Spending Time in Nature
Preferably you could be walking, riding, running, swimming or similar – physical exercise combined with being in nature is a winner. The natural world is infinitely complex and easily overloads our senses – compare the sight of a forest with the sight of four straight walls and a flat roof!
Additionally, the natural world wears the ecological nature of being openly. We tend to conceal the interconnected flowing structure of reality from ourselves in the modern human built environment. Going into nature reminds us of how things really work, even if we can’t see that.
In pre-modern times I suppose folks were much more embedded in the natural world and their consciousness was shaped accordingly. There are also specific practices such as sitting out that must surely be seen as partly incorporating the practice of just being in the natural world.
I find that spending time in nature grounds me, opens me, dissolves my own internal chaos and stiffens my resolve. It encourages me to reflect and breathe and I get many of my best ideas while staring at the ocean’s horizon or at water running over rocks. I’ve spent hours in deep trance, wandering the sea rocks and beaches of the seaside near my home.
Given my professional background I’ve had many experiences of the power of speech. We can infer from the rune poems related to Ansuz that speech is divine – so too is listening; and the Havamal is filled with advice on the important of cultivating good friendships.
There is a specific kind of talking in which one can hear oneself. Sometimes I have found myself watching myself from outside my own body in these conversations, suddenly presented with the reality of my identity and being. That’s a kind of objectivity that is very hard to achieve in other ways.
We often carry a lot of stuff around in our minds and bodies, and thoughts and feelings can get stuck in vicious loops if we don’t let them out. This clogs us up and makes us poor vessels for the waters. Exchanging speech with someone who is trustworthy is a powerful tool for relieving this pressure and blockage.
I regard this as a spiritual practice, because this is no the everyday, empty or utilitarian talking we so often encounter. It is rather the kind of communication that Hegel had in mind when he spoke of the power of recognition – namely, it is communication in which we find ourselves and our other. We create ourselves literally through the act of speaking and being heard.
Nietzsche talks about a certain kind of conversation – in which one person is a midwife and the other ready to burst forth with child. I’ve been blessed with the chance to play both roles many times in my life. Both roles can serve as powerful tools for unblocking oneself and expanding one’s capacity to hold the waters.
I use music to achieve all kinds of open, supple and cleared states. In particular I have written a number of finger style guitar pieces that utilise a lot of droning notes and open tuning structures. Something about droning notes is extremely trance-inducing. I can totally rewire my consciousness in this way.
I will say more on this subject in subsequent posts, but I would like to quote the marvellous folk singer Tony Eardley at this point:
If it takes you half a lifetime, don’t begrudge a single day
Just stumble back along the track that puts you on your way
You travel half the world around, through every port of call
To watch the clock rewinding to the hour before the fall
So now I try to listen, to take it as it comes
On silent cobweb mornings, through the city’s grinding hum
I try to catch the moment and hold it in the raw
To reach for the connecting thread to all that’s gone before
And sometimes I fear I’m standing here
With nothing to tell
But when the music’s flowing
Its like water from the well
Drawing water from the well
Exercise, Dance, Martial Arts, etc
Developing your physical fitness is a powerful way to unblock yourself and expand your capacity to hold the waters. Consider dance for example. The stronger and more flexible you become, the more free you become to express whatever impulse comes through your flesh.
Exercise really gets your physiology flowing, and this is a bit of a microcosm-macrocosm thing: the more flow within your body, the more flow you’ll be able to entertain from beyond your body. Insofar as I see the heart as an important part of being a vessel for the waters of life it make sense to do activities which literally strengthen and even enlarge your heart.
The stronger and more flexible you are – I find at least – the quieter the random chaos of your mind becomes. I think this is because with regular exercise you are spending more time in an embodied consciousness (assuming you practice with a bit of mindfulness of course). This in turn opens the conduit for the waters because as a vessel you become less turbulent.
Oh, and exercise entails a certain amount of pain. Getting used to pain, to being stretched to one’s limits, is very useful for breaking down the blockages that can shut us off from the flow.
Well that’s about all I have to say on this subject – suffice to say that all of this should be able to keep you going for, oh, a lifetime! I’m far from perfect, but recently I’ve become more and more resolute and active in pursuing these practices. The more I do them, the better I feel, the more free and creative I feel, which then invites me to do more. I still have my blockages and armour of course – but am I not human?