Monday, January 08, 2007

The Blacksmith of the Soul

A person on the path of the Native European Shamanic mysteries can never write enough about the sublime art of the blacksmith. To be a "tamer of fire and the elements" is not just to partake in a craft and technology that has changed the very shape and destiny of entire ages of man; it is a deeply spiritual art, to its ancient core.

The powerful work of drawing forth ores and metals, and putting them to the heat of the crucible, of pouring their molten elemental essence into molds, of hammering them in showers of sparks, and of thrusting them with the hiss of the mighty serpent into the bosom of the waters- we are dealing with a sorcery which comes from the oldest of times and places. We are seeing an image of the raw material of Man, drawn from the bosom of primal nature by the Allfather, and shaped by his creativity into the beauty and power of humankind. The creativity of the blacksmith is a direct sign of the gift of the Allfather in man. It is our capacity for creativity, in many ways, that links us to the Gods directly.

Enough cannot be said about the relationship of the shaman or the mystic to the blacksmith. In more than one tradition of modern Witchcraft, the "Coal Black Smith" figure is a great teacher, even the very image of the highest power. Esoteric traditions from all over the west give the Divine Smith a place in every pantheon, and even the biblical and Masonic traditions accord a special place to Tubal Cain, the first Blacksmith.

It is said that "Shamans and Smiths come from the same cradle". This is not hard to see- to tend the sacred flame of altar and sacrifice was the central role of all ancient European priesthoods, who were themselves guardians of an ancient shamanic line of mystics leading up to the time of formal priesthoods.

In ancient Indo-European Vedic religion, the Brahman priests prayed to Agni, the fire God, first and foremost, as his flame represented the living presence of all the Gods, and it received and consumed sacrificial offerings. Flamens were the priests of ancient Rome, and they too, presided over sacrifices on behalf of the people. The Vestal Virgins of Rome were especially charged with tending the sacred flame at the heart of Rome, a task that had to be done properly and purely, with the Fate of the entire Empire resting on the correct performance of their duties.

The Druidic priestesshood of Brigid in Kildare, Ireland, likewise tended a sacred flame; everywhere in ancient Europe does this motif re-occur. I have recently been turned on to the notion, captured so lovingly by Viktor Rydberg, that Heimdall, the God who guarded the Bifrost and who was the master of the Gjallarhorn, was likely a cognate to the Vedic Agni.

The reason why this is important is because while the old ways of Heathenry treat us to the most radiant and beautiful of Fire Goddesses imaginable- Freya- we must look harder to see true "fire Gods". Loki's connection with uncontrolled flames or disaster-fires is debated; but we cannot deny Freya's connection with flame, nor even old red bearded Thor's, for his lightning spreads purifying fire on the earth, and he was a special patron (so I am told) of Blacksmiths and other humans who used a hammer.

But Heimdall was said to be born of nine or ten maidens- thought by some to be daughters of Aegir, a powerful God of the sea. His daughters could be seen (on one level) as white and beautiful-topped waves on the sea; could a fire God arise from nine or ten waves of the sea? Certainly; in Vedic belief, the fire God Agni did arise from the water, though he is a God. One wouldn't see a regular fire simply arise from water. Heimdall was also called "Gullintanni", which means "gold-toothed"- which is (in my mind) possibly a kenning for "flames". His horse was called "Gold Top" and rams often end up being associated with Heimdall.

Who does Heimdall fight with at the Ragnarok? He faces off with Loki himself- if Loki is (as some believe) the God of the uncontrolled fire that destroys wantonly and wastefully, (or perhaps the unwise human mind that does the same) Heimdall is the controlled fire of the hearth, sacrifice, and the forge that is an agent of creation and craft. Surely they must be foes, to the bitter end!

Rydberg pointed out that the mysterious ten maidens that were the mothers of Heimdall could also have referred to the ten fingers that all human beings have- the ten fingers that work the bore-stick that produces fire. And what does "Heimdall" mean? "World-light", or "World-bright" or "World-radiance"- all fine names for the bright fire that forever lights the world from every hearth and from countless other sources.

We are children of fire; we are all kin to Heimdall, as Voluspa states without hesitation in the first stanzas. I do not believe that the God Rig who sired the three classes of mankind was Heimdall, as it is so often believed. I think that the beginning of Voluspa is only calling human beings kin of Heimdall because as long as we live, the fire of life burns in us. The very same fire that burns in a candle-holder before you, or in a bonfire in front of you, is burning inside your flesh, in the warmth of your body and blood. On the cellular level, fiery, energetic metabolism is consuming the food you ate, and generating much heat.

Freya's Brisingamen gem is a symbol, I believe, of the fire in every human and in every living thing, but in a greater, more mysterious sense; the Brisingamen was won from the four dwarves who are masters of the four cardinal directions of the world. The fiery gem and its golden chain is the golden circle of fire that represents the perfect, living circle of existence itself, of which we are all a part. It is the circle of life; the circle of the seasons and the sun and the moon, and the fiery spirit that unites them all. In this we begin to approach one of the deep mysteries of Seid, but that is another tale for another night.

But Freya's gem represents the awakening of the human spirit, the highest craft of the spiritual Smith. In Freya's bright form, we see the warmest, deepest, and most mystical image of the human soul and its deathless fire, of which our body heat is only the most surface-level manifestation.

This mighty Goddess is to be felt in the heat of our bodies just as Heimdall is, and this answers yet another mystery about Heimdall- why do some passages suggest that he is of the Vanir? Because I believe he is, and the connection is in the fire. I see an image of the human soul in its divine form when I look at the Vana-Dis, Freya; she represents ALL of the Disir, all of the divine female spirits that act as the immortal patronesses of human beings. She represents, in one form, the concept of the "Dis". She is the Frowe, the Frau, the spirit-bride of every mortal soul.

Where Odin or Woden breathed the spirit-breath of awakened mind into human beings, that breath is only part of what makes us human; it is the flame burning in us, the sacred fire, that also makes us human in the best sense of the word. And just as Odin entered into a sexual and initiation-based relationship with Freya, to learn the secrets of Seid, so must the wind of mind and spirit and the fire of intuition work in unison if we would be wise.

So I seek my spirit-woman, the Fylgja-Dis who follows me through my life and death, and I look to her to be my teacher. But she is more than that; as my guide into Hel, into the Underworld, she takes me into the mysteries of Fire, like her mistress Freya. She takes me, like all of the dead of this world, into the Underworld, where the great forges and fires below await. There, with ringing hammers, are the dwarven smiths of the Underworld.

Who are the smiths of our souls? Certainly the Fylgja can take any form it wants; but the fire-master Dwarves of the deep world offer their services, for they are truly the world-shapers in their own rights. And we must look at the soul, at our human bodies, minds, and souls, and consider what the ancient symbols of the Smith represent for us.

All magical and sorcerous arts make demands of us, even if we don't understand them, or if we want to avoid them. That's why so many people are uneasy with them, I think. You can try to deny the sacred dimension inherent in the art of the Smith but you can never escape it. You can deny the sorcerous reality that all human beings and all other beings are an inseparable part of, but you can never escape it. The more people try to see things just as "mundane", the further they are going into denial, and the further they are getting from the wisdom which can alone spare then the terrors of the giantish powers, the fearful tests of Hel, and the pains of this world.

A Blacksmith doesn't just beat hot metal with hammers. He is not just forging iron and metal. He is manifesting an act of sorcery, an act of shaping. And there are deep powers in what you call "yourself" that will hearken to every single ringing resound from the forges of this world and from the forges below. Why? Because human life is a matter of transformation and transmutation.

From the moment you are born, the raw material of your mind and body are dumped into the crucible of this world. And more than anything, this world is burning- a fire lives at the heart of every living thing, and even inside your own heart. In the heat of passion, new life is made, and everywhere are fights, wars, heartbreak, joy, violence, and death, all driven by the fire of life, the fire of lust, the fire of human emotions.

The danger of bright and beautiful Freya is seen here in her dark guise as Gullveig- the "Gold greedy"- 'gold' here meaning not just actual gold, and the lust and greed that causes so much suffering, but also the golden light and color of bright fire. Fire can consume and destroy as fast as it can help to create and shape and nurture; money can feed us and buy us shelter and medicine, but greed for it can (and does) destroy families, friendships, lives, and nations, on a daily basis.

The fire of life will reduce you, eventually, to molten slop. Into what mold will you be poured? What shaped and final product will your will and your deeds and your wisdom be worth, when the forge of life is done with you, and your spirit has aided you all it could?

So here we sit, feeling the pain of life, as we must- for we are exposed to the heat of the life-fires. Sometimes, a fire is a great source of joy and warmth. Life is like that, too, at times. Sometimes it burns and stings and destroys. Life is also like that. Either way, if you sit long enough in the crucible, you are reduced to your basic elemental components, and they flow out, into the hands of the Smith, who can shape them at his will.

Who is the Blacksmith of the soul? One day, you will meet this enigmatic being, whether it be in the deep Underworld, or in your own dreams and visions. You need to realize that the spiritual power that follows each and every human being is the shaper of that person's destiny, and for the sake of wisdom, we must see life's torments and trials as nothing more or less than a great craft that will shape us towards our own destinies, far beyond the boundaries of Middle-Earth.

Of course, there are two ways of approaching this reality which you cannot escape- with full consciousness, or in denial. In consciousness of what is happening to you, you are free to communicate with the spiritual powers that guide it- your Fylgja, the mighty smiths of the Svartalfar or the Dark Alfs or the Dwarves, who are not only real, existing powers, but transforming processes forever at work in your own deep mind. Undergoing life's ordeals with consciousness allows us a chance at freedom that comes very rarely. Being ignorant of what is happening to you only assures that you will miss the fiery glory that is your true birthright.

So make it a point this evening to realize that your life is a crucible for your body, mind, and soul. See all of the stress in your life, the troubles and tests, as the heat of the great fire that is the glory of this world, and the seat of life. Realize finally that you must reach out to the sorcerous powers that guide the destinies of mortal men and women, and appeal to them, ask them to hammer you, forge you, strengthen you, make you strong and wise in their great transformative power. Pray to the Gods and Goddesses of Fire, and make sacrifices for them; they are with us in every warm, burning moment of our lives.

This is the fire-prayer of a Sorcerer, but as I said, and as I always say, there is no human life out there that is not a manifestation of sorcerous powers. You may not consider the path of the Sorcerer to be your path through life, but that doesn't change the fact that you, like everyone else, is a product, a child of great and mystical powers that most of us sadly no longer recognize as such. Being a product of sorcerous powers and Wyrd, you have them as your birthright. They are yours to use, to understand, to communicate with, to enjoy, but only if you open yourself to them in the radical way that they demand. Wisdom demands no less. The path of "opening" begins in your basic belief in these realities, and in your relationship with the Gods and Goddesses- mentioned earlier- who are the guardians of these things.

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