Germanic Soul Lore (1)
Welcome to the first monthly issue of this new Rune-Gild blog. In the first year of the blog, we will be publishing an extraordinary series of pieces by Ingrid Fischer and Ian Read on Germanic Soul-Lore. These will be interleaved between other articles, and artwork by other Gild members.
Ingrid Fischer and Ian Read, both Masters in the Rune-Gild, ran a course at Arcanorium College (http://www.arcanoriumcollege.com/) a few years ago called The Essence of Germanic Soul Lore. The material presented here is a synthesis that draws upon both modern psychology and ancient magic, as practised by the authors.
The Essence of Germanic Soul-Lore
Readers may have already worked with Runes and may have gained some insight into the ancient Germanic ways of thinking. Anyone else, who has never worked with Runes before, or at least read about them, is strongly advised to start doing so now because Old Norse Soul Lore does not exist as an isolated body but is an integrated part of Runelore and the whole ancient Germanic system.
So, unless you acquire at least an overview of the whole system you will not benefit fully from what Soul Lore has to offer.
Accompanying reading should include Runelore by Edred Thorsson and two articles; The Germanic Idea of the Holy published in Rûna 10 and The Nordic Belief in Fate in Rûna 13 (leave a request in Comments for details of availability). Also recommended is The Fetch by Ristandi. This in-depth study of the practical use of embodied wisdom to work with the Fetch can be found as a free download at: https://vdocuments.site/documents/fetch-55845ad73f355.html
Old Norse Soul Lore (or psychology) is a complex and rich body the ancient Germanic peoples developed. We are lucky to have a multitude of Old Norse literary sources with a vast vocabulary describing the various concepts and parts of the soul, and closely linked with this we find the Germanic belief in fate (wyrd).
Old Norse Soul Lore does not separate the soul from the body; it deals with the whole person or, as we call it nowadays, the psychosomatic complex.
THE DEVELOPMENT OF SOUL CONCEPTS
By Ingrid Wultsch
Ancient northern soul lore as we know it now developed out of the need of the ancient peoples to make sense of the world they were facing. Man depended on nature and its powers for his survival and as a result it was commonsense to worship nature and impart it with a soul. We can still witness the last remains of these ancient beliefs in customs like disk throwing or burning the sun wheel. Since the fire of the sun and the earthly fire were identical for our early ancestors, we can see that with these practices man ‘assisted’ nature in its awakening after the long and dark winter nights.
Along with these nature beliefs our ancient forbears worshipped their ancestors and thought that their souls would be aptrborinn (reborn) in one of their descendants or, more accurately, some parts of them would be. In the dark nights around Yule we still uphold ancient customs surrounding death, souls and ancestry.
In accordance with those early beliefs we find it no surprise that early soul concepts are closely related to the human body.
The finest example for this can be found in stanza 18 in the Völuspá where we read how the gods bestowed man with a soul.
Önd Þau né átto,
Óð Þau né höfðo,
Lá né læti
né lito góða;
önd gaf Óðinn,
óð gaf Hœnir,
lá gaf Lóðurr
oc lito góða
They had no breath, they had no spirit,
Being nor vital spark, nor fresh complexion;
Spirit gave Óðinn, breath gave Hœnir,
Being Lóðurr, and fresh complexion.
Óðinn gives önd, the ‘breath of life’ which is in keeping with his nature as the sovereign god meting out life-giving power. Önd governs the bodily life and is therefore common to man and beast.
Óðr is ‘inspired mental activity’, the ‘divine spark’ in man which is influenced by higher powers. The ancients distinguished this particularly in poetry, the gift of Óðinn. Hence poetry is called óðr, and the mead of poetry is kept in Óðrerir (‘óð-stirrer’). Why then would Hœnir (from hœna – ‘attract’) give óðr to man, even though we know that he cannot act without the inspiration of other gods? Edgar C. Polomé (Comments on Voluspá Stanzas 17 – 18. Old Norse Literature and Mythology. A Symposium. University of Texas Press, Austin & London, 1969) explains that Hœnir is the vehicle of divine inspiration and that he interprets the signs given by an outside power. In this capacity he is instrumental in endowing man with óðr.
Lá is commonly interpreted as either ‘blood’ or ‘heat of life’. But, as Edgar C. Polomé points out, it is very difficult to find the right meaning through a plausible etymology. Lá could simply mean ‘look, mien, face’ or be cognate with Tocharian lek, ‘appearance, mien’; or it could have the poetic meaning of lá, ‘hair’. Hair was sacred to the ancient Germanic peoples; it was the vehicle of the hamingja, of the soul, of happiness. Læti means ‘voice’ according to Snorri or ‘gestures, attitude’.
Lá gaf Lóðurr oc lito góða could therefore mean either “Lóðurr has given man his mien and fair complexion” or “Lóðurr gave hair and fair complexion to man.”
Lóðurr, ‘wanderer’, is often seen as a fire god or Loki which, however, is not very sound etymologically.
If we look at the qualities the gods bestow on man, we can distinguish between spiritual ones (which Óðinn and Hœnir give) and physical ones (which Lóðurr gives). Since Lóðurr governs the physical aspects, he could be a god closer to fertility and nature. See the Indo-European (PIE) root * leudh- ‘grow’ and ON lóð ‘produce of the land’.
(to be continued)