As we move toward the close of 2021, there’s something I feel is relevant to share. It uses the Binding of Fenrir as a framing device, but has a far broader saliency. And far more personal relevance and application.
I’ve had a rather … difficult – indeed, downright tempestuous, in some respects – last few months. Looking back upon them, and their situation within the course of the broader Year, I am making sense of these occurrences … as I so often do … via Myth.
It is, after all, partially that which it is there for.
Let us start with that aforementioned ‘framing’. Really more of one of a pair of bookends, I suppose.
It’s a myth just about everybody knows – a great and demonic wolf comes among the Gods, one which is fated in prophecy to bring about even Odin’s Doom.
Except at this point in time, it is merely a cub. Still a large one, still growing, but a much more ‘manageable’ threat that it is eventually going to be. When it turns back up at the Apocalypse – with Jaws which scrape both upon the Earth and upon the Heavens they are so wide.
There is an obvious ‘modern’ question here. Why Bind Fenrir? Why go through with this even though it necessitates the God Tyr to ‘Lend a Hand’?
Why not simply kill the wolf when it is still a cub? Wouldn’t that be removing the problem before it can, literally, grow into a far larger one?
And while I have said that is a ‘modern’ question, befitting a modern mentality – it is also an archaic question. For it is addressed directly in the Gylfaginning.
Gangleri: “Yet why did not the Æsir kill the Wolf, seeing They had expectation of evil from him?”
Hárr answered: “So greatly did the Gods esteem Their holy place and sanctuary, that They would not stain it with the Wolf’s blood; though (so say the prophecies) he shall be the slayer of Odin.” ”
Or, phrased another way – you don’t kill somebody upon Sacred Ground. And that is a broadly pervasive Indo-European belief. We see it also turn up in the Iliad (and its aftermath) as applies Ajax the Lesser (although there, it can be argued, the Greeks erred in not carrying out Athena’s Divinely Mandated Sanction against a man who had first transgressed most evilly ‘gainst the sanctity of the sanctum).
Yet I believe there is another answer – and one rather better, at that.
First and foremost – the thing is propheceyed to occur. It should prove a risky business indeed to seek to cut the Thread of Wyrd in such a manner by pre-empting it, distorting it, disrupting the skein of life and of reality itself, one may surmise. Therefore, if the Fenris Wolf is to outlive being a cub so as to produce an Apocalyptic set-piece – it should disrupt the Order of the World(s) to remove it prematurely. No matter how sensible it might so seem to be in advanced anticipation. The ‘only way out is through’.
Yet that is not the point I seek to make here. Which requires us integrating another set of Indo-European theology – as we have so often done – to aid and avail us in granting a more complex and multi-dimensional picture of what is going on with Myth.
Now, in the Hindusphere there is this glorious concept of the Universe as … a dramatic stage. One upon which the Gods, and us, are – as a certain other Shakespeare put it [‘Spear-Shaker’ being … well … a theonymic we seem to find for one of the Gods directly involved in all of this], all “Merely Players”.
Well, not quite All.
You see, in the Shaivite-Shakta understanding, there are Two Who are Both the Producers, Directors, Script-Writers, Lead Actor & Actress, and I suppose Set Designers (etc. etc. etc.) for the Divine Drama in question.
This being, of course, Shiva & Devi … or, as we would say in the Nordic perspective: Odin & Frigg (and there are quite an array of other names that are relevant here).
The association of Odin with drama is an under-explored one; however with Frigg, there is a rather interesting line encountered in the Lokasena which I believe to be quite important here:
“Ærr ertu, Loki, er þú yðra telr
örlög Frigg, hygg ek, at öll viti,
þótt hon sjalfgi segi.”
Or, in translation:
“Mad art thou, Loki, | that known thou makest
The wrong and shame thou hast wrought;
The fate of all | does Frigg know well,
Though Herself She says it not.”
The word translated as ‘Fate’ here is ‘Orlog’. ‘Supernal Law’, we may say – the ‘Law’ that is ‘Outside’ (and a-priori to) conventional sidereal reality in its existence. Which ‘radiates’ in, and conditions and controls everything which happens herein. Which makes survival for life and light within this universe of ours possible – and which the demons (such as that Loki-spawned wolf, Fenrir) seek to snuff out. Chew through the cords of – ‘fray’ the Tapestry of Reality so that Chaos may ‘reign’ instead of the righteous Ruling Powers (Regin, ᚱᚨᚷᛁᚾᚨ). Indeed, were it to somehow triumph – it should prove the antithetical opposite to ‘Rule’.
This resonates with a prominent Hindu understanding for Brahman – the Absolute – as being Rta, Cosmic Order. And, as it happens, with Vak Devi (the Goddess of Speech – strongly coterminous with various Western Indo-European Goddess expressions) being the major in-universe saliency for same. This emanation of Cosmic Order through our universe is known as Rachana ( रचन ) – the Divine Plan. Or, with especial deference to Vak as communication and language … perhaps we may term Her the ‘Script’.
(Interestingly, as a brief aside, that Rachana ( रचन ) in Sanskrit and Hindu perception is potentially cognate with the Old Norse ‘Regin’ / Proto-Norse ᚱᚨᚷᛁᚾᚨ (Ragina) that we have just met earlier to refer to the Ruling Divinity)
Why I mention this here is because what is effectively communicated – if somewhat obliquely – in that verse of the Lokasena is that the Goddess, the Wife of the Sky Father, is very closely acquainted with, well .. that ‘Script’ for the Universe as Divine Drama.
As we should expect. She (and, contingent upon where one falls upon the Shakta-Shaivite spectrum, likely He) has played the leading role in Writing it. Writing us. Writing Reality itself.
Now the interesting thing about this understanding is that it makes the Divine Plan, Divine Order – not merely some abstract thing that is strictly and exclusively a-priori to the Universe which it conditions and sets in motion. Rather, it – or, we should say, ‘They’ – is also embodied (to loosely use a term) as active participants therein.
Yet what does that mean for this situation involving Odin and a certain monstrous adversary? And how does this impact our understanding of that eventual confrontation at the War at the End of the World – of Wolf versus Wolf?
It is direct.
In the Hindu expressions of this concept – particularly when it is being explicated for non-Hindus – we often find the understanding as to why the (over-)Divinity should choose to manifest, and subject Themselves to various of the experiences to be found within these worlds of ours, presented rather simply: “Because it’s Fun”. And there is certainly much truth to that. The Universe and its unfurling narrative is, therefore, the ‘Divine Play’ in both senses of the word ‘Play’. A most remarkable concept !
However, ‘Fun’ or ‘Enjoyment’ does not quite capture the appropriate sense for something like the Nordic mythic encounter under (constructive) discussion here.
There, another shading to the ‘entertainment’ is required.
The God in question is a God of Stories – of Sagas, of Epics, of Myths. Legends not merely because they are continually told and retold – but because they are so suitably impressive in both their contents and the telling of them, that they cannot help to be Immortal like the God. A semi-self-sustaining thing in that regard.
What He wants is to have an Epic experience. Nothing else shall do. And that means genuine struggle. Genuine threat. Genuine peril.
Even if the ‘ultimate outcome’ isn’t really in serious doubt – the pathway, the trajectory along the way via which one gets there ought to be sufficiently ‘memorable’ as to make it definitely worth the journey.
And so that, I believe, is a certain quotient of why the Fenris Wolf was not killed as a much-smaller and easier to handle Cub. Because what honour, what glory is there in such a slaying? It would not have, as an associate observed, ‘Drengr’ to it.
Meanwhile, charging right down the throat of a literally mountain-sized wolf? Much more epic. Much more memorable. The sort of Deed for which Songs Shall Be Sung. Art made. Men inspired to live up to even for millennia afore it has supposedly happened.
It would be tempting to presume that it is a mindset of “If you’re going to Die anyway – you might as well do so in a Heroic manner”. And there is certainly something to that for this context. As somebody once put it – “A Good Death Is Its Own Reward”.
But it is, again, an incomplete understanding. Because as the situation of Baldr demonstrates – there is a sufficiently ‘easy’ way to survive Ragnarok. That’s literally what He does. Admittedly, via virtue of having already been Dead by the time proceedings start – and walking all the way from His ‘Ragnarok-Proof Bunker’ down in Helheim up to Vigrid, by which time the War At The End Of Time has concluded, along with the Ekpyrosis element. Hoddmímis Holt up in Yggdrasil’s boughs might represent another such locale. And we also have Jörð rising back up out of the Ocean – which I do not take to (only) be the physical Earth, but also the Mother Earth (Goddess – and Wife of the Sky Father) returning back into the Universe from the limial sphere, just as it was before.
Yet where should the ‘Fun’ be in missing the ‘Last Hurrah’ of the Universe Entire? Where is the Glory? Where is the Triumph?
Odin is, as we all know, the God of Victory – and also of Cunning. It can be fairly argued that Odin might be victorious in a sense simply via ‘enduring’ on into the next Cycle of Creation. That is, after all, an actual victory worth having in its own right – as is done through martial force and fervor by those Gods Who do manage to make it through that awful conflagration. Víðarr and Váli constitute two obvious examples – not least due to the former successfully Avenging His Divine Father through slaying Fenrir. Indeed, between Them and Baldur, it should prove tempting to surmise that Odin does, in fact, manage to ‘outlast’ the End of the World – re-emerging into the New via way of patrilineal reincarnation. Whether it is through that mechanism, or other more esoteric processes, the cyclical nature of Indo-European cosmology would seemingly suggest – particularly via its well-attested and incredibly well-developed Hindu understandings – that Odin does, indeed, enjoy re-immanence in the Next Cycle. One which has become all the more immense and fittingly impressive due to the epic combat via which He went out (or, rather, shall go out) of this one.
And what happens then? Why … it all starts over. The playing pieces are picked up and re-set for another go.
As the Voluspa puts it, speaking of the situation at Iðavöllr following the ‘clearing of the board’ at the conclusion of Ragnarok :
“Þar munu eftir undrsamligar
gullnar töflur í grasi finnask,
þærs í árdaga áttar höfðu.”
Now, Bellows has rendered that verse as the following:
“In wondrous beauty | once again
Shall the golden tables | stand mid the grass,
Which the Gods had owned | in the days of old,”
Except I believe there’s a slight error there – in the manner in which he’s translated töflur. It most certainly can mean ‘Table’ – although even there, it should most likely be approximated to ‘Board’, as in ‘Game-Board’.
However, there is also another sense in which töflur may be meant – ‘playing pieces’. We find this directly referenced in the Riddles (‘Gátur’) of ‘Gestumblindi’ (actually Odin in disguise) as reported in Hervarar saga ok Heiðreks.
The verse reads:
“Hverjar eru þær drósir, er vega vápnlausar um dróttin sinn?
Inar jarpari hlífa um alla daga, en inar fegri fara.
Heiðrekr konungr, hyggðu at gátu.”
“Who are those girls, who fight weaponless around their lord?
The darker ones protect [him] during all the days, but the fairer ones go forth [to attack].
King Heiðrekr, think about the riddle.” [Burrows translation]
The answer comes back:
“þat er hneftafl; tǫflur drepaz vápnalausar um hnefann ok fylgja honum enar rauðu”
“That is hneftafl; the töflur kill each other without weapons around the hnefi, and the red ones escort him”
So .. ‘Golden Playing-Pieces’, indeed (perhaps intended to mean Gods and Their Champions – ‘Shining Ones’). That are collected up and re-set for another round as one of the foundational exercises for the New Cycle of Creation.
Just as it was, we may surmise, In The Beginning … or, at least, the beginning of This Cycle.
For, again, per the Völuspá:
“Hittusk æsir á Iðavelli,”
“Tefldu í túni, teitir váru,”
“At Ithavoll met | the mighty Gods,”
“In Their dwellings at peace | They played at tables,” [Bellows translation – note once again, ‘Tefl-‘ rendered as ‘Tables’]
The immediately preceding lines to the mention of the board-games there, and which immediately follow the mention that the Gods have congregated at Iðavöllr, are of significant interest – as they present particular Gods engaged in the process of ‘forging’ and ‘smithing’ : we may presume of the Universe at this early stage of (literally) Creation and its unfurling. Perhaps we may even surmise that the ‘Gold’ spoken of in the next lines connects also to these ‘Playing-Pieces’ and Game-Boards. Certainly it seems implied to have depleted in quantity following the appearance of three Thurs [‘Giants’ / ‘Demons’] there. Although other interpretations are possible, and it is not our intent to get into that herein.
And what is the significance of this Iðavöllr at which all of this has happened, is happening, and shall once day recur?
We must look at the etymology. It has been theorized as ‘Splendour Plain’, perhaps drawing from the ‘Golden’ associations aforementioned. It has also been thought of as an ‘Eddying Plain’ – presuming a meaning effectively that of Icelandic ‘iða’, which refers to an ‘eddy’ or a ‘whirlpool’. The interpretation thusly given, which is not necessarily inaccurate in a figurative sense, is that it is the place where everything happens and then happens ‘again’ (this being built, in part, from ‘ið’ meaning ‘again’): that is to say, it is a space for and of ‘Cyclical Creation’, things going ‘around and around’ and thence drawing inexorably to a center as with a Whirlpool’s fluid motion. The ‘center’ in question being, of course, the End of the World where seemingly everybody (and most every Power or Force) able to do so congregates at Vigrid for the Last War.
However, I think that this is ‘missing’ something. ‘Iða’, can also refer to ‘motion’ – especially of the ceaseless variety. This is how it has also come to pertain to the visually apparent motion within bodies of water of an eddy or a whirlpool.
I should therefore propose that Iðavöllr is, in point of fact, the ‘Space for Motion’; from the aforementioned ‘Iða’ plus ‘vǫllr’ as in ‘field’, ‘open ground’. This should accord positively with Bellows’ own interpretation as the ‘Field of Deeds’. Perhaps we may term it ‘Playing-Field’.
And what sort of ‘Motion’ is it? What sort of ‘Going’, which is ‘Ceaseless’ do we find ‘played out’ here? Why, it is the Divine Play. The Gods (and everything, all else – it should seem; at least, in terms of the ‘major players’) playing Their Parts, Their Roles.
That ‘Open Space for Ceaseless Motion’ is the Stage. In Sanskrit, we should refer to this as the Divya Abhinaya-Mantapa. The Divine (Divya) Theatrical-Performance/Expression (Abhinaya) Hall or Pavillion (Mantapa).
There, the ‘Motion’ in question is that of the Krida ( क्रीड ) or Nataka ( नाटक ) ; the former with more of the sense of a ‘Sport’ (particularly an amorous one – the pursuit of the Other Half by One of the Divinities in question, we may surmise), the latter with a root incorporating ‘Dance’ (‘Nata’ – नाट , like ‘Nataraja’ for Lord Shiva as Lord of the Dance and Controller of the Universe therethrough; and it must be remembered that, as with prominent Ancient Greek drama, ‘dance’ is directly integrated into ‘drama’ for the Hindu performance art), and both very definitely also meaning ‘Performance’ in the context of the Divine Play.
We find this most eloquently mentioned in a line of the Mahishasura Mardini Stotram [‘Hymn of the Destroyer of the Buffalo-Demon’] dedicated to Devi Durga –
नटित नटार्ध नटी नट नायक नाटितनाट्य सुगानरते
Nattita Natta-Ardha Nattii Natta Naayaka Naattita-Naattya Su-Gaana-Rate
Acting/Dancing (Nattita) [as] Half (Ardha) the Actor/Dancer (Nata), Actress (Nati) [and] Actor (Nata) [are the] Protagonist/Lead (Nayaka) [of the] Act/Drama (Naattita) [being] Performed (Naattya), Delighting In / Engrossed In (Rate) the Beautiful (Su-) Song / Performance (Gaana).
Yet where am I going with all of this. Why have I irrigated the page you see afore you with such in-depth and lengthy sustaining showers of words thereupon?
I said toward the outset that I have been having an … ‘interesting’ few months. They have taken what had (perhaps unexpectedly) taken what had seemed set to be the best year, the happiest year, that I had had in … quite some time – and turned things decidedly the other way around on me. I shall not go into detail here about what had happened, but suffice to say that it was pretty dire. And, as I noticed even as it had began to unfurl, strangely ‘Mythically Resonant’ in various key particulars. So much so that I am outright convinced that I am ‘living in a Myth’ – a ‘resonancy’, a ‘recurrence’, an ‘Eternal Return’ (as Eliade would have put it – which has interesting bearings upon the notion of this, all of this, as ‘ritual re-enactment’ for re-immanentization of the hoped-for, longed-for ultimate outcome here in this world about us now . . . or soon-to-be) of something ‘higher’, something supernal, something … in a word … Divine.
If all of that sounds insane – trust me when I say that possession of the full set of details should either irreducibly confirm your opinion, or for another sort of mind irrefutably re-confirm the accuracy of my indicated assessment. Possibly both.
But that is not the point here.
What is, is the mindset required to respond to finding one’s self in such a scenario:
Rather than recoiling in banality and refusing to recognize the true nature of events around one via instead hiding behind a ‘comforting delusion’ of mundanity – or, for that matter, recognizing the situation for something of what it is, and breaking down in a sort of ‘vertigo’ at the sheer immensity of the Stage which one has found one’s self thrust upon …
… The eminently appropriate attitude is one of relishment – passionate enthusiasm. Which is, aptly enough, immanently correlated with the ‘Odin-ness’, the ‘Rudra-ness’ of the occurrence. After all, Odr and Manyu in Old Norse and Sanskrit respectively may refer to just such a state. ‘Furor’ it is also called. And it entails, as an axiomatic consideration, one ‘rising up’ to run upon a higher ‘script’ than one’s own (merely human) interior monologue. To feel the inscrutable sense that one is as akin to an Arrow – having been drawn back and fired forth, no ‘doubt’
This is partially a ‘necessary’ consideration – for to not have (and potent-i-ally be within the grip – ergreifen – of) such a Zeal should be to invite into one’s mind the risk of the dual gravities of ‘mundanity’ and of ‘despair’, twin consequences of too much ‘rationality’, taking (choke)hold instead upon one.
Yet it is also simply the natural exaltation of realizing that one has come into possession of that rare circumstance: the militant command that one engage in an electrifying act of the forcefully conspicuous ‘Re-Enchantment of the World’.
It is both a cause and a ‘choice’ for rejoicement – for in amidst the hum-drum detritus of the ‘disenchanted world’ of the Modern Age – there yet remain such causes for wonder, wondrous acts, and deeds that shall live on long after their enaction in the very fabric of our cosmos and our collective civilizational mythosphere. After all, as a certain game-player once put it – whilst cattle and kinsmen might perish, something which yet rings immortal is a suitably Cool Story which encapsulates a man’s epic deeds.
This is, interestingly, something which may even transcend the Death of Universes – in the Voluspa, once more, we find the Gods immediately prior to ‘re-setting’ those aforementioned Golden Playing Pieces gathering at Iðavöllr to talk and tell stories of the mighty figures and mightier myths which preceded this newly-incepted Cycle of Creation. To quote:
“Finnask æsir á Iðavelli
ok um moldþinur máttkan dæma
ok minnask þar á megindóma
ok á Fimbultýs fornar rúnir.”
“The Gods in Ithavoll | meet Together,
Of the terrible girdler | of Earth they talk,
And the mighty past | they call to mind,
And the ancient runes | of the Ruler of Gods.”
It is not impossible that this occurrence represents a sort of ‘templating’ for the next, by-then-ensuing Cycle of Creation and the Universe via convocation of the great and resonant Myths of the previous Span.
Yet let us return to that Ruler of the Gods and His Appointed Doom.
For that is at the heart of this present matter – the mindset, once more, of how to comport one’s self when facing such an immense (both figuratively and literally) challenge.
And that is to take the perspective that just as Odin – we may infer – ‘dialed up the difficulty’ in order to have a more Epic experience and consequent storied Legend … so, too, can one take quite some relish in having been confronted not with ‘the easy way’, but with an actual test worthy of one’s abilities and the memorialization of them in Song.
Indeed, it reminds me of the spirit of Kennedy’s 1962 ‘Moon’ speech:
“We choose to go to the Moon. We choose to go to the Moon in this decade and do the other things: Not because they are easy, but because they are hard.
Because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills.
Because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too.”
Stirring stuff !
Of course, as with many things that are ‘Odinic’ or ‘Shaivite’ and ‘Roudran’, there is something of a ‘double-facing’ to all of this. Which, when properly considered, reveals itself to be all one in the same.
So, alongside the sternly inspiring rhetoric of ‘Challenge’ and ‘Struggle’, there is also the counterbalancing of remembering that, at the end of the day (it’s night-time) – and that the whole thing’s … well, I hesitate to state: ‘A Game’, in the modern colloquial sense.
Yet let us quote another set of stirring verse which may do better to explicate what we mean here:
“There’s a breathless hush in the Close to-night —
Ten to make and the match to win —
A bumping pitch and a blinding light,
An hour to play and the last man in.
And it’s not for the sake of a ribboned coat,
Or the selfish hope of a season’s fame,
But his Captain’s hand on his shoulder smote —
‘Play up! play up! and play the game!’
The sand of the desert is sodden red, —
Red with the wreck of a square that broke; —
The Gatling’s jammed and the Colonel dead,
And the regiment blind with dust and smoke.
The river of death has brimmed his banks,
And England’s far, and Honour a name,
But the voice of a schoolboy rallies the ranks:
‘Play up! play up! and play the game!’
This is the word that year by year,
While in her place the School is set,
Every one of her sons must hear,
And none that hears it dare forget.
This they all with a joyful mind
Bear through life like a torch in flame,
And falling fling to the host behind —
‘Play up! play up! and play the game!’ “
Now I am not English, and I am part of that vanishingly small quotient of the Hindu population of this earth who does not engage with nor follow Cricket.
Yet Newbolt’s ‘Vitaï Lampada’ nevertheless never fails to strike a chord with me. It is, as we say, approaching the same core concept – that of the essence-tial ‘Spirit’ for such circumstances – via the opposite angle. That of playing up the enthusiasm of gamesmanship rather than the more serious-minded sentiment of the ‘worthy challenge’ with which to galvanize one’s entire being, focus, energies, and network of associations. Both approaches ultimately arrive at the same destination – but with the idea of ‘playing the game’, there seems an ebullience almost to be mandated which does not seem quite so overtly in evidence for the ‘challenge’ invocation. Even if, given some of the circumstances rhetorically renderable as part of this ‘Gamesmanship’ sphere, the cause and the case is no less deadly serious for its ensconcement in jocularity.
But I have ranted on long enough – and with too little which I can safely share amongst it.
What is necessary for us to know in this dire hour is quite simple and inexorably straightforward. Adrasteian, we might say.
We are following Rachana – the Divine Plan !
And therefore – We Have Already Won !