Changes: Facing Them and Making Them
Article ID: 13238
Age Group: Adult
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Posted: September 27th. 2009
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I must confess... I like change. Countless times I've heard that “people don't like change” but I've always been an exception. There are times when I'll change something even when it doesn't need to be changed just to be doing something different.
Recently I've been reading Gods and Myths of Northern Europe by H. R. Ellis Davidson, a book that was first published in the year that I was born. In her chapter on Odin (Old Norse Odhinn, Anglo-Saxson Woden) , she questions the god's character, for even though among his people an ‘oath-breaker’ was contemptible, Odin seems to do just that... and more.
In fact, Kveldulf Gundarsson puts forth the theory in Teutonic Magic that Odin and the trickster-god Loki are two sides of the same entity. The inference is that Odin causes woe as well as weal amongst his followers -- perhaps even more of the former than the latter and that he cannot be trusted.
I pondered this (which is exactly what mythology is supposed to get us to do) at length, and now I want to share my thoughts on it.
The consensus about mythology is that it isn't to be taken literally. Outside the fundamentalist Christian crowd, this isn't news... science proves that most mythological tales, and particularly creation and global-flood myths, cannot be taken as fact. Mythology communicates gnostic wisdom, which, like ‘common sense’ cannot be taught in the same way as math or literature or history is taught.
Instead its underlying premises must be communicated indirectly and only when synthesis occurs between the information presented and one's own inner experiences does it become true wisdom. The living of our lives grows the barley and hops, and mythology adds the yeast... but even then, it must be left to ferment.
In the myths, Odin traded an eye for a drink from the well of wisdom that sits at the base of the World Tree (Yggdrasill) . He hung on the tree for nine days and nine nights and was pierced with his own spear (hung on a tree and pierced with a spear... does that sound familiar?) in order to learn the secrets of the runes.
Gundarsson describes Odin's “endless power of changing to fit the world around him” and “his endless, restless wandering in search of new knowledge, and his work of learning, integrating new wisdom, and teaching it in turn to those who can understand it”. This is how I see the aged, gray-bearded deity: as both seeker and conveyor of wisdom and gnosis.
Bear in mind that if myths are not to be taken literally, then we're mixing metaphors so to speak, if we see the gods as they are described. We anthropomorphize them to aid us in visualizing them, communing with them, and learning from them, but this necessary practice doesn't change the fact that their true nature is probably more at home in the realm of quantum physics than in our images of them.
If myths aren't meant to be taken literally, and gods aren't truly as human-like as we tend to envision them, what then of their exploits? Those too, in my opinion, cannot be taken literally but instead pondered for the secret truths that they hold. To view the tales of Odin and conclude that he is untrustworthy is to accept them at face-value and miss their actual message.
In analyzing the myths associated with Odin, I thought to myself, “He definitely throws a lot of curve-balls!”… Something that I have said more than a few times about myself.
I do it because one of my roles is that of a teacher (unqualified though I may be!) and I've learned that one of the best ways to teach is to and -- metaphorically-speaking -- pitch a nice mixture of curves, change-ups, and fastballs; for it is when we step outside our routine and face the new and unexpected that we truly learn and grow.
A key element of fiction writing is that the protagonist is expected to learn something at the climax of the story. This isn't a run-of-the-mill “something” but a deep, transforming “something”... often something about themselves. And what precipitates their revelation?
Luke Skywalker learns that he's not a nobody-farm boy but instead a hereditary Jedi and find that the power to effect change (“the force”) has been inside him all along... because he's thrown into conflict with the evil Empire. Dorothy learns that Kansas and Auntie Em aren't so bad after all after been chased by flying monkeys and menaced by the Wicked Witch of the West. And Ebeneezer Scrooge breaks down the walls surrounding his heart after being shown the truth of what was, what is, and what is to come.
Without conflict there is no story... nothing changes; nothing is learned.
“Conflict” doesn't always mean someone bopping someone else over the head. It can be someone winning the lottery and finding that being rich isn't any easier than being poor. It can be landing the man or woman of your dreams only to learn that s/he isn't who you thought s/he was. It can be reaching the heights of the corporate ladder and realizing that it was the climb that made you happy, not the view from the top. So them perhaps and ‘conflict’ isn't the best word; I'm thinking ‘critical change’ is more accurate.
This, then, may be one of Odin's lessons: if we wish to gain knowledge, wisdom, and magickal skills, we need and ‘conflict’... i.e. change. No one wants to get beaned by a fastball, but the more curves and change-ups that come our way, the better we'll get at hitting them.
Darwinism is often summarized as simply “adapt or perish”. Conversely, one might assume that the process of evolving can be hastened by increasing the number of changes faced and thus the speed of adaption. And yet it isn't a race; we're not under any pressure to ‘get there’ any faster than expected.
I think the answer is somewhere between pressuring ourselves into as much growth as possible in as little time as possible versus resting on our laurels with occasional growth-spurts happening only when we're backed into corners and ‘up’ is the only place left to go. It's not a race to the top, but it does behoove us to reasonably challenge ourselves to be as good as we can be at whatever point in time we occupy.
It is said that those who choose to follow Odin do not have the easiest path ahead of them. That may be true, but it is also said that nothing worthwhile comes easily. Perhaps that's because if whatever “it” may be comes to us without our having worked for it, we obtain is sans the knowledge to make proper use of it. To make the most of what we're given, first we must make the most of ourselves.
"Gods and Myths of Northern Europe" by H. R. Ellis Davidson
"Teutonic Magic" by Kveldulf Gundarsson
Copyright: Copyright 2009, Deacon Ramsey
Location: Soddy Daisy, Tennessee
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