The Unbinding of Fenrir...
Article ID: 6422
Age Group: Adult
Days Up: 5,013
Times Read: 7,288
Author: RuneWolf [a WitchVox Sponsor]
Posted: July 6th. 2003
Times Viewed: 7,288
What follows came to me in the course of a sleepless night, when my mind was wandering down one of the shadowed byways of my current spiritual path. It is unequal parts intuitive synthesis, armchair psychology, mythological reinterpretation and radical contrariness. It is not meant to be a rejection or critique of anyone's personal spiritual path or mythological understanding. It is simply the result, for me, of the final collision of a few things that have been floating around in my spiritual consciousness for some time. In the end, it has simply filled a few gaps for me, helped me to make sense, at last, of a couple of seeming paradoxes and inconsistencies, and offered, finally, another possible understanding of the work that I must do. My hope, in sharing it, is that it may do the same for someone else.
It should not be concluded from this essay that I consider the Goddesses and Gods to be "merely archetypes." On the contrary, I consider Them to be so much more. However, it is undeniable that They are, in fact, archetypal, and that Their stories are often allegories for the journey that each of us must make. It is from these archetypal stories that mythology is woven, and I believe that the mythologies of our spiritual ancestors, while they should be honored and preserved, should not remain static. It is up to us, the inheritors of those mythologies, to continue the stories of the Gods, based on our contemporary experience of Them. This is one such effort.
I have followed the Spirit of Wolf for many years now. During that same approximate time span, I have also followed the Way of the Northern Gods, both Celtic and Nordic, as I personally have come to understand it. Not surprisingly, I have found that my loyalties to Wolf and to the Northern Gods have, on occasion, come into conflict, particularly in regard to the myths surrounding the binding of Fenrir, the Fenris Wolf. I have always felt that Fenrir got a pretty raw deal from the Aesir. Fortunately, modern Paganism does not require that we always agree with what our Gods did and do.
Fenrir is one of the offspring of Loki by the Jotun-ess Angarboda. His siblings are Jormungandr, the Midgard Serpent and Hel, Goddess of the Realm of the Dead. Loki was not particularly liked and admired by the Aesir, but he was tolerated for a time because he was blood-brother to Odhinn and could be both useful and amusing. Similarly, while his daughter Hel was thought to be of fearful aspect and questionable parentage, She nonetheless undertook to rule the land of the dead, which the other Gods were reluctant to do.
Her brothers, unfortunately, could find no such useful employment in the Nine Worlds. Of Jormungandr, we will not speak here. Of Fenrir, it can be said that the Aesir, fearing the potential for mischief that any of Loki's get might have, kidnapped the young Wolf from his mother's hall, and took him to Asgard, where they might keep tabs on him.
While he was a cute and cuddly wolf-pup, the Aesir adored Fenrir, and treated him as one would a beloved pet. But all too soon, Fenrir began to grow large and powerful, and the Aesir came to fear him outright, to such an extent that they decided to bind and control him. Time after time, they attempted to bind him with all manner of chains, but the Great Wolf broke them all with but a shake of his head. It became a game for him, which terrified the Aesir even more.
Eventually, the Aesir sent Skirnir, Freyr's servant, to the dwarves in Svartalfheim to have a special binding made, a rope called Gleipnir. Gleipnir was made from the sound a cat makes when it moves, a woman's beard, the roots of a mountain, the sinews of a bear, the breath of a fish and a bird's spittle. That is why these things are very rare in the world today.
When the Aesir went to bind Fenrir with Gleipnir, the Great One sensed that something was up, and agreed to wear Gleipnir only if one of the Aesir would put their hand into his mouth, as a guarantee against treachery. Of course, none of the Aesir would do it, because They all knew They were up to no good. But Tyr, the God of Law, agreed. Naturally, when Fenrir realized that he had been tricked, he bit off Tyr's hand in revenge.
The Gods then took a chain called Gelgja and tied it to Gleipnir, and tied Gelgja in turn to a boulder called Gjoll. They drove Gjoll a mile into the earth, and placed an even larger boulder called Thviti on top. Then the Aesir gagged Fenrir with a sword, its tip on the roof of Fenrir's mouth and the hilt on his lower jaw. And that is where the Great Wolf is doomed to remain until Ragnarok.
This then is - more or less - the mythology. Now let us look at one possible interpretation of this story, and of the work that it may suggest for each of us.
The Gods of Asgard are the personifications and champions of the forces of Law, Harmony and Growth in the cosmos, forever aligned against the forces of Chaos, Entropy and Destruction as personified by the Jotunar, the Giants. The Asgardians Themselves are composed of various tribes, chiefly the Aesir and Vanir, but including a few "rogue" Jotunar such as Loki and Skadi, and a number of other, less readily identifiable, individuals. Of the Aesir and Vanir, the former are inclined toward the "civilized" energies such as the rule of law, literature, philosophy, science, industry, technology and what we would consider structured magick. The Vanir, on the other hand, are associated with the "wilder, earthier" energies such as sexuality, intuition and spontaneous magick.
Basically, the Aesir and Vanir represent the left brain/right brain dichotomy, and many of the tales told of them are allegories for the struggle between the two "brains" of the individual, the strength and power that arise from the integration of the two and the pitfalls that await when that integration is not achieved.
In this mythic structure, I believe that the tale of the binding of Fenrir is, simply put, an allegory for the repression of what has come to be referred to as the Shadow - those "bestial" aspects of our psyches that are "socially unacceptable;" that, we are told, must be rejected, imprisoned and buried in order for us all to be "good little boys and girls."
Fenrir is kidnapped and eventually imprisoned simply because the Aesir fear what he is capable of doing. He has not actually committed any crime or offense, has not actually caused any harm or catastrophe. He is judged and condemned solely for his potential to do these things. Similarly, we are acculturated to repress our Shadows not because we have demonstrated any remarkable capacity for destructive behavior, but simply because we might create chaos if we don't control our "impulses."
Fenrir, at first, defeats all attempts to curtail his nature, just as we, as children, often seem to defeat all attempts to force us into an acceptable mold. We know intuitively what Isadora Duncan tried to express: "You were once wild here - don't let them tame you!" But the forces of "Order and Harmony" are relentless, and their resources vast. Ultimately, our Shadows are imprisoned, not by chains of iron and steel, but by ropes made of many subtle strands, as was Fenrir. We can each of us look at our lives and see what our "Gleipnirs" were woven of, and by whom.
In the end, yet still sensing something is amiss, we give in, and allow ourselves to be fettered by the seemingly innocuous and weightless chains of social convention, conformity, moral relativity and political correctness. Not until the noose is set do we come to appreciate the true terrifying strength and inescapability of that which now binds our wilder impulses. Our Beast would howl at the injustice of it all, but that voice is stilled, and the Beast cruelly gagged, by the sword - the threat of punishment, physical, verbal or emotional, if that voice is heard. And, over time, the chains that bind are reinforced with the massive boulders of constant conditioning and negative reinforcement.
But this does not come without a price. In order to successfully bind the Fenris Wolf, Tyr the God of Law and Justice must sacrifice his hand to pay for the treachery of the Aesir. I believe that this is devastatingly symbolic of how we are maimed by the consensual treachery of our culture as it seeks to dominate and control our individual Shadows for its own perceived protection. In being forced to "surrender" our wilder selves, we are horribly wounded, all the while being told what "upright citizens" and "paragons of virtue" we are supposed to be. Indeed, Tyr is the idealized Civilized Man, willing to endure any sacrifice to ensure the well being of the community. And yet, in subjugating our Shadows, as many Jungian psychologists will tell us, we are in effect crippling ourselves, depriving ourselves of much-needed abilities, so that we face the challenges of life, not with "one hand tied behind our back," but with that hand missing completely!
(It is worth noting here that Tyr is thought by some to have been the original leader of the Aesir, until Odhinn replaced him. In the Celtic mythologies, Nuada of the Silver Arm, once king of the Tuatha de Danaan, was forced to step down when he, too, lost his arm. While this is not explicitly addressed in Norse mythology, given the common Indo-European background of both cultures, it is possible that Tyr's maiming in the jaws of Fenrir resulted in his fall from power. If so, this is an even more powerful allegory: the Whole Man, once King, looses his Power when he is forced to repress his Shadow, sundering his Ego and crippling himself.)
We are also cautioned that what is repressed will one day re-express itself, often with destructive consequences. In participating, however unwillingly, in the binding of our own Wolves, we risk our own individual Ragnaroks, when those self-same Wolves at last break free.
To forestall this, I propose that each of us - those who are so inclined - undertake an inner, mythic work; to unbind our Shadows and encourage the reintegration of those estranged aspects of our psyches. Alas but the mythology is male-oriented in its characterization, yet I believe this can easily be undertaken by either gender, with only a slight re-visioning. Use whatever tools you are most familiar with: shamanic journeying, guided meditation, active visualization, or any other process that will lead you through an active participation in the resolution of this mythic conflict.
In brief, we must each assume the aspect of Tyr One-Hand, God of Justice. We must journey to where Fenrir is imprisoned, and remove the sword-gag from his mouth. In doing this, we restore the voice of our Shadows, and accept into our own hands whatever "punishment" society may decree for our "crimes" of true self-expression. Indeed, as we reach into the mouth of the Beast with our maimed forearm we will find our missing hand is restored, and it is with this that we grip the sword. Drawing forth the sword, giving our Shadow back its voice, we may then turn the blade upon the mighty chain Gelgja, shattering it. The Wolf, at last, will be free, and the subtle binding of Gleipnir will fall away, returning to the nothingness from which it was made. Then, together, Tyr and the Fenris Wolf may return to the Nine Worlds, stopping briefly at the gates of Asgard to show the Aesir that God/dess and Beast may indeed co-exist. Likely, the reception will not be a cordial one, for the fears that drove the binding of the Beast to begin with will still be there, and will most likely be extended now to include the God/dess. And perhaps this is as it should be. Let the Aesir remain where They are, waiting patiently and fearfully for the coming of Ragnarok.
For the God/dess and the Wolf, for our Shadows and us, there are other Realms to explore, together.
I have prepared an example of a guided meditation to be used to undertake the journey described above. You may view it by following this link. Please feel free to save or print it for personal use. As with any such undertaking, this work should be approached seriously and cautiously, and novices are strongly advised not to attempt it without extensive training and experience in Otherworldly journeys. While the ultimate goal is a worthy and productive one, such experiences can be harrowing and damaging, if undertaken lightly or whimsically.
In Their Service,
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