Esoteric Cosmology - Hidden Lore

The Big Book of Runes and Rune Magic: How to Interpret Runes, Rune Lore, and the Art of Runecasting - Edred Thorsson 2018

Esoteric Cosmology
Hidden Lore


Under the heading of cosmogony we will also discuss theogony (birth of the gods) and anthropogony (birth of man), each in its turn. In the Gylfaginning (chapters 5—9) we read in great detail how the world was wrought. The description given there tells of the watery realm of Niflheimr (Mist-World) in the north, out of which flowed the ice streams loaded with yeasty venom, and of Muspellsheimr (Fire-World) in the south, out of which flew fire and sparks. These two extremes of energy flowed toward each other through Ginnungagap (Magically Charged Space). The extremes on either side brought about a harmonious condition in the center of Ginnungagap; and as the sparks and hot air of Muspellsheimr hit the ice, it quickened the yeast within it, and a form was shaped from the union of these energies—Ymir (the Roarer).

From Ymir are descended the rime-thurses. As a bisexual being, Ymir engendered a male and female thurs under his left hand, and one of his feet engendered a son with the other foot.

As a part of the same process in which Ymir came about, Audhumla, the cosmic bovine, was shaped as a coagulation of the dripping rime. She gave nourishment to Ymir with the milk that flowed from her udders. She, in turn, was fed directly from the frozen drizzle, by licking a salty ice block formed by it. From this block, she licked the form of a being named Búri. Búri, an androgynous entity, engendered a son called Borr, who subsequently married an etin-wife named Bestla, the daughter of an etin named Bölthom (Evil-thorn). From the union of the proto-god Borr and the etinwife Bestla, the divine triad Odin-Vili-Vé was born.

This godly triad then set about to kill (sacrifice) Ymir. This they did and took his form to the middle of Ginnungagap, and from this substance they fitted out the framework of the multiverse. They gave shape to the world and set the mechanisms of the world in motion within the context of the four quarters. The heavens were shaped from Ymir's skull, at the four comers of which the gods set four dwarves—Nordhri, Austri, Sudhri, and Vestri. At the very center they built a stronghold from the brows of Ymir, which was called Midhgardhr (the Middle-Yard).


Figure 10.1. Cosmogonic process.

Now the divine triad set about shaping mankind. This was done as Odin-Vili-Vé were in Midhgardhr near the sea, where they found two trees. To these already living beings Odin gave önd (spirit, the breath of life), Vili gave odhr inspired mental activity), and Vé gave form, speech, and the senses. This process is also described with the divine triad Odin-Hoenir-Lódhurr in the “Völuspá” (sts. 17—18) in the Poetic Edda. The male being was called Askr (ash) and the female Embla (elm).

This text should be read by all students and meditated upon deeply. It contains many runic mysteries.

The whole cosmogonic/theogonic proto-process is schematized in figure 10.1, which conceptualizes the entire primordial evolutionary complex as seen by the ancient Germanic peoples. This can be only an approximation, however, because the actual process is multidimensional.

Ginnungagap is a space charged with a field of proto-energy. Niflheimr and Muspellsheimr constitute that energy in a highly polarized and intensified state, which then interacts with itself in the center, where a new form modeled on innate multiversal pattern is manifested. This is symbolized by : Image :, which is the pattern of the World-Tree as an ultimate crystallization of this seed pattern. It is also the snowflake pattern which demonstrates the nature of these unmanifested images to become visible once they are fed with the proper energies and substances. The fiery realm is a manifestation of the light energy of maximal vibration, whereas the icy realm is a solidification of the dark energy containing the elemental kernel of the mysteries of life and death—yeast, salt, and venom.

Once this proto-seed form is shaped, it splits into another polarization of proto-matter (Ymir) and proto-energy (Audhumla), but some of the energy from the proto-seed falls into Ginnungagap and is recrystallized as the ice block from which the proto-energy exercises its shaping power to form the androgynous proto-god/etin, Búri. Búri contains the pure pattern from the direct union of fire and ice but is shaped by the forces of proto-energy itself (and gives of itself in a form of self-sacrifice to the cosmic bovine). Ymir, the mass of raw cosmic material and the innate cosmic form or pattern contained in the “seed of ice”—the hailstone (hagall : Image :)—is ultimately sacrificed by a triad of divine beings (i.e., the forms of primal consciousness). These three beings—truly a whole—are the first conscious, and therefore divine, beings because they can comprehend dualities and shape their environment due to the innate synthetic consciousness that results from their descent from a triple source: (1) the primal seed union, (2) Ymir, and (3) Audhumla. The triad of consciousness dissolves Ymir, and out of its matter reshapes the static cosmos into a dynamic, living, and conscious organization, according to the right (i.e., innate) patterns already contained in the matter itself (Ymir) and in the primal seed.

Humanity is a further shaping by the conscious divinities. But again, humanity is a part of the whole of the cosmos, not something created (ex nihilo) by the “gods.”

Askr and Embla were already living beings (organic: here symbolized as plants), and the complex artificially expanded consciousness was imparted to them (co-equally and simultaneously) as a part of the non-natural evolution of consciousness in Midhgardhr.


The runes themselves define the pattern of existence and of consciousness; therefore, they are at work throughout the cosmogonic process. Before the sacrifice of Ymir, those patterns are unmanifested, and only in a rudimentally differentiated state. Only the biune duality between the murk runes (ON myrkrúnar) and the shining runes (ON heidhrúnar) was manifest. The runes bloom forth into an independent and isolated state upon the birth of Odin-Vili-Vé (when the murk and shining runes are entirely resynthesized into a whole coherent system). The runes, as we can begin to know them, are manifested in divine consciousness and in world being. When the triad of consciousness sacrificed Ymir (the crystallized seed of runic pattern) they shaped this primal substance according to the inherent runic structure. They arranged it in the shape of the nine worlds of Yggdrasill (see figure 10.7 on page 126).

It must be born in mind that these “events” take place in dimension(s) beyond our three, and as such, processes that we must discuss in a sequence may be “synchronistic.” So it is with “events” of the birth of Odin-Vili-Vé, the sacrifice of Ymir, the manifestation of the runes and the world (Yggdrasill), and the rune-winning initiation of Odin (see Runelore of the Gods, chapter 13). On different levels these events all describe one face: consciousness enters the organic order from outside that order.


Figure 10.2. Diagram of the futhark pattern of manifestation.

As far as the (re)birth of the runic system is concerned, this manifests itself through the processes of (1) the blooming forth of the runes from a central point in a bidirectional or twofold spherical pattern (see figure 10.2) and (2) the wrapping of the resulting sequence around an eightfold plane (see figure 10.3). This gives the runes an organization that is comprehensible and communicable. It provides order and orientation.


Figure 10.3. Eightfold division of the futhark.

The first unfolding from a central point begins with the two kernel, or “core,” rune forms of cyclical (: Image :) and vertical (: Image :) force—the cycles of becoming and the axis of being. Thus, according to the pattern of the mystery of twenty-four, the runes manifest within a twelvefold sphere; each rune aligns with another according to a “law” of sympathy/antipathy as the spheres expand. The numerical sequence 1 to 24 is crystallized upon the application of the ordering force of consciousness that organizes the runes from left to right (in the natural order, i.e., along the pathway of the sun). It must be remembered, however, that runes could be carved in any direction—left to right, right to left, or back and forth. These facts show the way to a deeper understanding of the hidden meanings behind this practice. The spherical ordering of the futhark is graphically represented in figure 10.2. The significance of the dyadic parings of the runes that result from this pattern of “blooming forth” shown in figure 10.2 is indicated in table 10.1.


Table 10.1. Runic dyads.

From the previous chapter it is known that the harmonious arrangement of the runes in aettir is a significant mystery in and of itself. As the runes are ordered in their sequence 1 to 24, they emerge into the horizontal plane of existence from the “north” (that is, out of the doorway to other worlds) and, like a serpent, wrap themselves three times about the circular plane around Midhgardhr. In the Germanic tradition, planes are divided into eight segments in order to gain a position or orientation on that plane. These eight segments or divisions are called aettir (which can mean both “families” and “eights,” i.e., the “eight directions”). (The archaic Scots dialect word airt survives in this meaning.) It is probably from this cosmological pattern (see figure 10.3) that the primary significance of the airt divisions of the futhark was derived.

Yet a third basic “arrangement” of the runes, one which emphasizes the multidimensional reality of the mysteries in the branches of Yggdrasill, will be discussed later.

Runic Elements

The subject of elements in the runic context has been one of the most hotly pursued areas of speculation and inner work among those dedicated to the Odinic path. This in large measure is due to the prominent role played by the four elements of air, fire, water, and earth in the Hermetic/Neo-Platonic school of occult philosophy to which the runic is often compared, or out of which it loosened itself in more recent times. These Neo-Platonic elements may very well derive from some formalization of Indo-European patterns, and these may indeed have been shared by the Germanic peoples. The elements are essentially basic classes of substances occurring in nature that evoke certain subjective psychic responses when meditated on. They are classificatory tools for the psychophysical complex. As such, it seems most beneficial to explore the runic ideology to extract from it directly, through runic investigation (a combination of lore learning and “wizardry”), the nature of the mysteries of runic elements. Here a note must be interjected: Although what follows is based on traditional sources, it is not intended as a dogmatic rule. Other interpretations may be possible. It is hoped that this work will open some doors and at least broaden somewhat those doors that have long stood wide.

As far as the lore is concerned, the secrets of the Eddas have for too long been ignored. In them is housed a great wealth of hidden knowledge if one will only open one's eyes to it. The cosmogonic myth explored at the beginning of this chapter holds the keys to the secrets of the ancient and complex science of runic elements.

The polarized primary elements are two in number: (1) fire and (2) ice, and the secondary ones are (3) water and (4) air. Further elemental building blocks of life are also described in the Gylfaginning in the Prose Edda: (5) iron (slag and the “sparks” from Muspellsheimr as its heat reaches the center), (6) salt, (7) yeast, (8) venom. These are all synthesized in the final element—(9) earth. All of these elements work on the “plane of manifestation”—the horizontal plane—not on the vertical axis of consciousness. These elements are meaningfully diagrammed in figure 10.4. A short description of the nature of each element, read in conjunction with the cosmogonic myth, and with comprehension of the runic system will help in the understanding of this complex:


Figure 10.4. Runic elements on the horizontal plane.


Total expansion, all-vibration, heat, light, dryness, proto-energy—dynamic.


Total contraction, non-vibration, coldness, darkness, proto-matter—dynamic.


Stillness, evolutionary being, wetness, matrix for form—static.


All pervasiveness, formless space, warm, matrix for consciousness—static.


Primary synthesis, hot/cold, hard, dynamically penetrating, inert matter.


“Stuff of life” and substance of organic life, maintainer of form.


Dynamic “livingness,” organic movement, growth, health.


Latent dissolution, corrosiveness, organic dynamism (negative evolutionary factor—destruction necessary to reshaping).


All-potential, manifestation, final elemental synthesis.

These must not be interpreted as “emanations” of one another. All elements are real and latent in the whole, in the universe (omniverse), before they are manifested in the multiverse.

The primary dyad fire:ice interacts across the expanse of the gap (filled with ginnung, proto-consciousness, which will “solidify” in the vertical axis), and those dynamic all-extremes call forth the balancing, mediating factors of the secondary dyad water:air. The interaction of these elements gives rise to the whole of the organic processes. At the most direct, least mediated contact point between fire and ice, primal iron is forged in the cosmic crucible, and its primary and most purely “elemental” synthesis of fire:ice interacts like a lightning bolt with the latent organic mixture of yeast/salt/venom within the matrix of fire:ice/water:air. This spark of life first quickens the yeast, causing the organic birth process to be set in motion. This is eternally maintained by the salt of life, which holds the process together. However, the latent venom ensures the continued dynamism and evolutionary nature of the process because it is continually dissolving life so that it may be reshaped in ever more complex forms by consciousness. Here we see the origins of the material aspects of the “high-holy-three” (trifidic truine dyad)—birth-life-death to rebirth (as in figure 10.5).


Figure 10.5. Elemental cycle of becoming.

All of these factors go into the formation and quickening of the center of the horizontal plane, the middle of the gap where all conditions are ideal for ultimate development and reproduction of the whole—the earth. This is also the center point of the numinous vertical axis of the world, which completes its potential for the realization of the whole.

These seem only to constitute a first level of runic elemental wisdom. Actually, the elemental factors could probably be multiplied and refined more and more (as they have been by the physical sciences) to construct a veritable “periodic table” of runic elements. The roots of such a system are shown in figure 10.6.


Figure 10.6. Table of runic elements.

The employment of “elemental thinking” in the development of a true philosophy—which takes into account not only consciousness but also the natural world and the building of symbolic and psychological bridges between the two—is of invaluable aid. This is because the conscious analysis, categorization, and experience of readily apparent physical phenomena leads to an internalization process with regard to the environment, so that nature can indeed become a loremaster in a living way and the path toward the whole will become clearer.


Once the gods have shaped the cosmos from the primal substance according to its pattern and set the whole in motion, so that it becomes a living, organic, evolving thing, the whole is viewed as a cosmic tree—Yggdrasill. The descriptions of the world structure given in the Eddas does not always provide a totally consistent picture, but we do not expect one in a multiversal system. The enigma and mystery housed in metaphors show us that these are observations of the travelers in the supraconscious, the true shamans, and not the dogmatic constructs of rationalistic philosophers. However, at present we have need and use for these schematizations to help us unwrap some of the enigma enshrouding the cosmos. Therefore, we must now explore the esoteric analytically before delving into the uncharted waters of Niflheimr. The approximations of such schemata must always be borne in mind.

From the Prose Edda and our knowledge of the nine worlds of Yggdrasill, we can build a primary structure of the cosmos. But in and around these worlds (ON heimar; sg., heimr) there are many dwellings, and the Eddas speak of them in many passages.

We know that Midhgardhr (the manifested “material” world) is in the middle of Ginnungagap; that is, it is not, as some occult philosophies would have us believe, at the bottom of the universe. To the north is Niflheimr, to the south, Muspellsheimr; to the east lies Jötunheimr (Etin-World), and to the west is Vanaheimr (Vanir-World). Along a central (but omnipresent) axis—the Irminsūl—running through the center of Midhgardhr, the realms “above” and “below” Midhgardhr are arranged. It must be remembered that these directions are symbolic of eternal and omnipresent mysteries. Below Midhgardhr is Svartálfheimr (Black-Elf [ = dwarf]-World), and below that is Hel ( = enclosure of death, the hidden place, the stead of stillness). Above Midhgardhr is Ljóssálfheimr (Light-Elf-World, or simply Elf-World), and above that is Asgardhr itself (the enclosure of the Aesir). These nine worlds are thus arranged along the plan of Yggdrasill and the three-dimensional snowflake pattern. Figure l0.7 gives a detailed description of the mysteries of Yggdrasill. This pattern consists of a horizontal plane, described by Muspellsheimr-Niflheimr-Vanaheimr-Jötunheimr-Midhgardhr, and a vertical axis described by Midhgardhr-Ljóssálfheimr-Svartálfheimr-Asgardhr-Hel.


Figure 10.7. Yggdrasill.

Actually, the center plane should be tilted in the imagination so that Niflheimr is on the nether-edge and Muspellsheimr is on the higher one. We know that this is an old conception because linguistic evidence shows that the root word from which “north” is derived (*ner-) originally meant “under.” Above Midhgardhr is the realm of light—“the heavens”; below is the world of darkness—“the nether world.” And the Irminsūl, the cosmic pillar of Yggdrasill, connects them all. M. Eliade's book, Myth of the Eternal Return, speaks most eloquently of this mystery. The vertical column or axis defines the psychocosmic bisection between the conscious and unconscious, between light and dark, just as the horizontal plane defines the bisection between the expansive, electric energies of fire and the constrictive, magnetic energies of ice. The horizontal is energy and the plane in which “physical” energy is found; the vertical is the psychic pattern of consciousness and being. All meet in potential harmony in Midhgardhr. This potential can be activated by the runer.


Table 10.2. Keys to the worlds of Yggdrasill.

It will be noted that between these nine worlds there are twenty-four pathways. This has two meanings. It indicates that the mystery of twenty-four helps shape and hold the entire cosmos together (as it formulates the structure of the runic system itself), and on a certain level it indicates that runestaves could be ascribed to the various roads as keys to unlock conscious access to them. Experience has shown that there may be no objective one-to-one correspondence between a runestave and a roadway, although speculative exercises in this direction have always proved meaningful. The universal truth seems to be that the structure of Yggdrasill and that of the runic system are shaped by the same twenty-four-fold force and that each pathway contains an entire potential futhark within it. In the ebb and flow of energies within the system one rune may dominate a certain roadway, but that does not mean other runes are not to be found there. As is usual with the runes, much is dependent on the state of being of the runer—the observer of the mysteries.

As far as analyzing the essences of the worlds is concerned, table 10.2 on page 127 provides the fundamental esoteric lore necessary to the runic comprehension of the realms of Yggdrasill.

These worlds and enclosures interact with one another in a cosmic ecology of energy and essence. The eight realms outside Midhgardhr each oppose and balance a counter realm: Asgardhr balances Hel, Ljóssálfheimr balances Svartálfheimr, Muspellsheimr (fire) counters Niflheimr (ice), and Vanaheimr counters Jötunheimr. The “material world,” Midhgardhr, stands in the midst of all—the realm of all-potential. From it the runer can reach out in all directions and ascend to the realms above or ride down to the worlds below. However, it should be noted that there is a special relationship between Asgardhr, Midhgardhr, and Hel, which are properly called “the three realms”—heavenly, earthly, and chthonic. There is a similar bond among those six realms properly called heimar, which “surround” Midhgardhr. Access to realms beyond these six into the outermost two is difficult, to say the least.

Collectively, the pathways between the worlds are known as Bifröst, the Rainbow Bridge. The structure is a model of the world, but it is also the pattern of the “world within”—the microcosm of man, if you will. This is made abundantly clear in the skaldic language of the north in which humans are often paraphrased in terms of trees; for example, a warrior will be called “the oak of battle.” These “kennings” are derived from the mythic fact that humans were “shaped” from trees (i.e., already living, organic substance) by the triad of divine consciousness. (Compare this to other mythologies in which humans are fashioned from inert matter.) In the Yggdrasill pattern we have the ancient Germanic (and perhaps even Indo-European) model of the subjective universe and a model for its linkages to the objective universe. Here continues to be hidden a rune of great power.