Runic Psychology - Hidden Lore

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

Runic Psychology
Hidden Lore

The lore of the soul—psychology—is a complex but fundamental aspect of runic (esoteric) studies. The ancient Germanic peoples possessed a soul-lore as intricate and precise as any in history and far more complex than what we commonly have today. Much of this wondrous world can be recovered through the study of the words the ancients used to describe various soul conceptions and psychophysical processes. It is easy to see that when a group has a highly specialized or technical vocabulary in a given field it is because (1) they understand its intimate workings and need terms to distinguish various aspects of which they have knowledge, and (2) it is an area of life to which they attach a high level of importance. Besides the “souls,” another idea that dominates Germanic thought is that of “fate”—wyrd. It cannot be fully understood apart from the lore of souls, and it helps to explain exactly how these souls are at work within us.

Forms of the Soul

It is somewhat of a misconception to separate a discussion of the “soul” from the “body” in runelore. They are intimately tied together, but, paradoxically, they may be consciously divided from one another through runework. Without such work this would naturally happen only at death. When speaking of the “whole person,” it is perhaps most accurate to use the somewhat cumbersome terms psychophysical or psychosomatic (soul/body) complex. In any event, the soul is made up of various aspects—essences and/or substances that may lie more or less dormant in some individuals but in the runer are awakened to vital existence. It is hardly a wonder that once a people loses the terminology for an experience it soon fades from memory. Runelore and runework reawaken that memory.

Because the Norse were the last of the Germanic peoples to be “converted” to Christianity and because in Iceland the early phase of the conversion was of a tolerant nature, the Norse language and lore preserve intact the most complete runic psychology.

It is on this lore that the following analysis is based. However, it appears most likely that all of the other Germanic peoples—Anglo-Saxons (English), Germans, Goths, and so on—had equivalent systems.

There are nine psychological constructs (each more or less complex) that go to make up the “whole man.”

1. The physical vehicle is made up of several elements. The body itself (ON lík) is a complex of various substances (ON efni) such as “appearance” (a special ON term that may refer to the hair; also ON sjón, see hamingja below), movement (ON laeti), health or good complexion (ON litr). These are the original gifts of the god Lódhurr. The “substances” of the body are gateways to other aspects of the self, and they are the ultimate receptacles of magical work. Therefore, certain subtle substances in the body become focal points for the development of the self or the person of whole consciousness, aware of all aspects in an exalted ego state.

2. The “shape-substance” (ON hamr) is closely associated with the “body.” It gives the plastic foundation or subtle matrix to physical reality. However, it can be brought under the control of the will (in the mind; ON hugr) and cause first subtle, then more substantial forms to take shape in accordance with the will. This is the power of imagination. Taken to its extreme forms it can cause “materializations” of imaginary beings (natural or non-natural) into which the consciousness can be projected. Old Norse literature is full of such descriptions. Most typically, the vitki lies as if asleep or dead, and in another location he is able to materialize an animal shape in which he can fight or stalk his enemy. If this shape is injured, the vitki will receive the wounds as well.

3. The faculty of ecstasy (ON ódhr) is the gift of the god Hoenir. This is as much an experience, a state of mind, as anything else. It is the faculty—emotionally almost physically experienced—of rising up and out of the normal state of consciousness into a high level of energy and enthusiasm. Ódhr is the same root present in the name Odin, and it is by this power that magical force is manipulated. This is the active agent directed by the will. It is this power over which Odin rules.

4. Closely linked with the ecstatic faculty is the vital breath (ON önd), which is the gift of Odin. (It must be remembered that the triad Odin-Hoenir-Lódhurr actually represents a triform Odin.) The önd is the “divine spark,” the all-pervasive vital energy on which all life is based and which is the foundation of all runework. The concept is similar to the Indian prāna, and even the word itself is related to Sanskrit ātman (spirit, self). It is the bridge to higher levels of being.

5. The “mind” (ON hugr) is a complex entity indeed. It is actually made up of three faculties: (1) volition, (2) perception, and (3) cognition. This is the seat of the will, and as such it has the power to assimilate other aspects of the psychophysical complex to itself. This is why the term hugr is often used in Old Norse literature when other aspects might have been expected. It seems to “take over” the personalities of advanced runers because their evolution comes more and more under conscious control. By this faculty, persons do analytical thinking of a conscious sort. It is synonymous with the left brain functions.

6. Intimately linked to the “mind” is the “memory” (ON minni). These are the two psychic aspects represented by Odin's ravens: Huginn and Muninn (Mind and Memory). This faculty is indeed memory, but it is much more than what we commonly associate with this term. It is more than the simple recall of past events; it is the storehouse of all mysteries, the great rune-hoard. This is why, in the “Gríminismál” (st. 20), Odin says of the relative values of Huginn and Muninn:

The whole earth over,

every day

hover Huginn and Muninn;

I dread lest Huginn

droop in his flight,

yet I fear me still more for Muninn.

A coordination of the mind and the memory faculties is what gives “intelligence.” The mind processes external stimuli (including that received from memory), whereas memory (minni) reflects on its own infinite material. Minni is analogous to the right brain.

7. The “soul” (ON sál) usually comes into play only after death. This is the shade—a subtle body in which the psychic aspects (or some of them) are focused after the death of the physical aspects. In life this is the part of the psyche that passively receives the record of one's actions and remains the negative space into which one evolves. It is analogous to Jung's “shadow” concept of the unmanifested aspects of the psyche, discussed in the next section.

8. The “fetch” (ON fylgja) is in many respects the bright side of the shade. In men the fetch is seen as female, and in women it is male. Actually, there are three fetches, or “following spirits”: in human form, in animal form, and in geometrical form. Each image has its own function. The one in human form is attached for the duration of life and can be passed on from generation to generation, either along genetic lines or according to willed projection. The animal-shaped fetch is usually in a form that corresponds to the character of the person to whom it is attached—a wolf, an eagle, a horse, a fox, a mouse, and so on. It can be separated from the vitki as a magical act. The vitki also may project his conscious will into the fetch in order to carry out magical workings. A geometrical shape is often seen by those with “second sight” going out in front of persons of great power. The fylgja is the repository of all of the actions of the persons to whom the entity was previously attached. It can be the source of great power but also of tremendous responsibilities and even hardships. This entity is the storehouse of ørlög—it can protect and it can doom. The fetch is closely related to, and in some cases identical to, the valkyrja or dís entity.

9. The “luck” (ON hamingja) of a person is extremely complex and, in many ways, closely linked to the fetch. Hamingja, which is linguistically derived from hamr (i.e., ham-gengja, one who can go about in another shape) is essentially a power concept analogous to Polynesian mana, Iroquois orenda, and so on. It too has some anthropomorphic symbols and is conceived of as (1) “luck” (personal power), (2) guardian spirit (symbolically derived from that luck), and (3) shape-shifting ability (which is its original meaning). A wide variety of consciously willed actions develop this magical power. It can be transferred from one person to another (although its effects are only temporary unless it is attached to the fetch-wife). The hamingja is the collective might and main of the individual. It is fed by and feeds the fetch-wife with power so that during a man's lifetime we can speak of a hamingja-fylgja complex that works in harmony.

A schematic representation of the psychophysical complex (figure 12.1) perhaps gives a clearer image of just how these various concepts relate to and interact with one another. How-ever, since the reality of this model, like that of Yggdrasill (figure 10.7 on page 126) is actually multi- or extradimensional, a two- or even three-dimensional model is somewhat inadequate.


Figure 12.1. Germanic structure of the psychophysical complex.

Other structures that appear in the figure include the ego, or “I” concept and the magical “ego” (or persona). The “I” (ON ek) is linked to, or identical with, the name or names of the individual. On the Odinic path the runer—as he or she develops stronger links with the fetch and strengthens the powers of the other psychic aspects—forms magical “I” concepts allied with the fetch. These alternate personae are usually of the same gender as the “natural body.” Each of the personae has a name and can be evoked with the right formula. It is in these self-shaped magical forms that the runer carries out runeworkings. The magical personae can be quite numerous, but each embodies a part of the whole psychophysical complex; each is a hyper-aware entity. Ultimately, it is in these concepts that the essence of Odianism is to be understood. This also gives a key to the understanding of Germanic heroic mythology, and each of the runestaves speak to at least one aspect of this realm.

Runic and Jungian Psychology

The only modern theoretical psychological structure that comes close to encompassing the power of the ancient Germanic practical soul-lore is that developed by the Swiss psychiatrist C. G. Jung. Jung's psychology has been the subject of “occult” investigations before, but the Germanic system seems unusually well suited to his structure because it is particularly understandable in Jungian terms. Jung himself devoted some space to the Wotan archetype in an article in which he compared the half-forgotten archetype to a dry riverbed that awaited only the release of the waters of life to renew it, along its old patterns.1 So too it is with concepts of the soul. As a culture, we have been impoverished with regard to the soul—cut off from our ancestral ideas about it (or them)—and given only hazy, often contradictory doctrines as replacements. The time has now come that the waters of life be restored to their ancestral beds, and the souls will again come alive.


Figure 12.2. Jungian structure of the soul.

Jung's psychological scheme is characterized by certain structures, as figure 12.2 indicates. Jung's scheme, of course, lacks the overtly magical (practical) functions of the hamingja-fylgja, but their reflections remain in the process of the “alchemical marriage” between the animus and anima (the masculine and feminine sides of the soul). It is in the common process of a union between contrasexual aspects of the soul that the two systems are most alike on a practical level. Also, Jungian techniques designed to activate the “transcendent function” are of benefit in any effort to gain access to the fetch-wife or fetch of today.

In addition, the shadow bears a close resemblance to the “shade” function of the soul. Even gods have their shadows, for this is what Loki is to Odin. Perhaps the most prominent feature of Jungian psychology is the structure of the collective unconscious. This comes as close as anything—perhaps with the addition of theories concerning the bihemispherical brain—to defining the true nature of minni and the mysteries taught by the raven Muninn.