Bright From the Well consists of five stories plus seven essays and a rune-poem. The stories revolve around themes from Norse myth - the marriage of Frey and Gerd, the story of how Gullveig-Heidh reveals her powers to the gods, a modern take on the social-origins myth Rig's Tale, Loki attending a pagan pub moot and the Ragnarok seen through the eyes of an ancient shaman.
The essays include examination of the Norse creation or origins story, of the magician in or against the world and a chaoist's magical experiences looked at from the standpoint of Northern magic.
Now available from Mandrake of Oxford and from this website
Excerpt from 'Bright From the Well' © Dave Lee 2008
Chapter 1: Creation?
Creation or Evolution?
The tale we read in Voluspa and Gylfaginning of the formation of the world from cosmic fire and ice, the growth of the giant and the cow and the sacrifice of the giant to pave the way for an intelligible cosmos is not really a creation myth. There is no overall creator, sitting in gaseous solitude until he ejects everything. Rather, it is a myth about how automatic cosmic processes give rise, by a process of fatal inevitability, to stages of evolution. Not only is this story far more in tune with modern ideas of how everything arose than the silliness of creationism, but it provides a sophisticated hierarchy of the development of new forms. Starting with cosmic principles (fire and ice), we develop cosmic laws and pre-human forms of intelligence (giants). We then form god-consciousness - Odin - and out of organic forms - trees - human beings are endowed with that spark.
Philosophical ideas of evolution existed before Darwin applied the idea to the development of organic life. The founder of Neoplatonism, Plotinus, declared that the Absolute emanated increasingly dense and imperfect entities until we reached the utmost density in material forms. This concept of the great chain of being formed a backdrop to Western thought for centuries, and thinkers1 in the 20th century have pointed out that the great chain had become temporalized, maybe at some point in the eighteenth century. Against such an intellectual background, Lamarck speculated that biological forms evolve, and subsequently Darwin suggested a believable mechanism for that evolution.
Some modern evolutionists are aware of the intellectual parenthood of the idea. As Sean Nee2 expresses it:
Common presentations of evolution mirror the great chain by viewing the process as progressive. For example, in their book THE MAJOR TRANSITIONS IN EVOLUTION, John Maynard Smith and Eors Szathmáry take us from the origin of life, through to the origin of eukaryotic cells, multicellularity, human societies and, finally, of language.
Instead of emanation from a perfect source, we now have evolution towards greater complexity, subtlety and refinement of structure. The ideas are not the same, but they do seem to be strongly related, in an inverse way: Plotinuss emanations descend from rarefied to dense, and organic evolution proceeds upwards from simple to complex. Looking back along the line of evolution of matter and life, we move from the complex world we live in to fewer, more universal powers and beings. With a myth of beginnings, we are seeking back to our source.
Let's invent a minimalist myth of origins: Primordial consciousness arises in the roaring, churning continuum of the forest. It divides and knows it is separate, isolate. Then it knows it is going to die, that its death is already written, scripted in the flesh. Everything else is a filling-in of the details.
Our stories of the gods are signposts to the numinous, to higher states and stages of awareness. An origin myth tells us how we got here - with a reverse striptease in which naked primordial consciousness becomes clothed in the patterns of the familiar world, via some particular, special number of veilings of that nakedness. In the Northern stories, that special number is often nine.
I have hung the tales and ideas in this essay onto that robust old tale, understood as a sequence of nine stages.
The Beings of the Worlds
Today we have reached a stage where our knowledge is a dismembered supergiant, each blood-drenched fragment competing with all the others. We need stories that make sense of these fragmented voices, that weave very different viewpoints into a coherent picture of the human world.
I find that different dimensions of our experience can be voiced by the races of beings in the Eddic tales. I have tried to give voice to the various entities that occupy the world, and who might tell a origin tale from their own viewpoints.
Dwarves we can find: they labour still, in the secret places of the body and mind, because they are the forces of habit, the ingrained things that actually work well, and so go on working, without anyone needing to interfere in their craft. On one level, they are biology. In another sense, they comprise the face of our consciousness that is ever pointed outwards towards matter; what transpersonal researcher Stanislav Grof labels hylotropic consciousness, as distinct from the inward-directed holotropic awareness. Dwarves forge the details of our sensory world.
Etins, or giants, also make up our external, objective world, but they are a more remote and alien aspect of nature than the dwarves. They speak for the vast, inhuman systems that are the customs of the physical universe. They speak for the inside of matter, matter on its own terms. They are allied to physics and systems theory.
In vision: Now we are on a metal road, with sides curving up. My horse has steel armour, may be a steel horse now. The road becomes a bridge over starry space, with massive shadowy presences about us (we are too little to attract much attention). I realise we are in a realm of total illusion (like Thor & Loki in Utgard). We are in something like Cyberspace. This is the realm of mineral forces, quartz crystals in passage graves, quartz crystals in electronic equipment, providing the interior world of cyberspace through etinic agency...
...in the distance, Etinhome is a pimple of mountain on the horizon. I ride towards it. Close up it is not a mountain, but an arrangement of mirrors, reflecting automatic industrial processes, no people of any kind, like an abandoned factory that's still producing.
The giants remind me of Gregory Bateson's concept of Mind At Large. He illustrates this with the way a forest after a fire will repair itself in a certain ecological sequence. He calls this 'intelligence', and distinguishes it from human awareness, which he calls 'consciousness', and which he regards as a very limited form of Mind At Large, the forest intelligence. This position is of a piece with the fact that Bateson was one of the original theoreticians of computing back in the forties.
Bateson's model seems to see us as essentially the same as giants, just as Extropians believe we will one day upload ourselves into computers instead of dying. Such radical reductionists of consciousness argue the position of computer theoretician Alan Turing's infamous Test: that we have no more subjectivity than a computer program of equal complexity to our own processes. Do I believe that? No. My position on this issue may be summed up as: Don't be taken in by etinbollocks.
In general, cosmologies and philosophies that seek to 'transcend' - or should we say, more honestly, to sidestep or deny? - the problems and pains of being human - or even humanity itself - by reference to cosmological stuff, impressing us with how symmetrical some enormous model is - are etinic/giantish. Most forms of Theosophy and its descendants are shot through with such thinking.
Giants and bureaucracy mix well - anything that is dehumanizing in a rational, ever-so-well-meaning way reeks of etinbollocks. We might imagine etin accountants who balance the loss of lives, with a numerical weighting for different degrees of sentience.
Another feature of our relationship with giants is in the straight, terrain-oblivious lines, sighting lines underlined in track and stone, we find the world over. In Northern Europe some of these are roads are only ever used for funeral processions - the so-called death roads. Straight lines, death and stone: giants .
The elves also speak for our relationship with the natural world - but in this instance through the medium of the human imagination. William Blake reminded us that the imagination is the most spiritual of our intellectual qualities, and the elves speak for the ascent of human consciousness to the realm of nature mysticism, the vivid sense of identity with the entire natural world. Their realm is, on one level, the arts.
The gods - Aesir and Vanir - are the voices of both our subjectivity and of culture, both our inward spiritual quest and our ways of encoding it in religions. The gods bring about links, divine marriages, between different races of beings. In Voluspa we read of the giving of consciousness to humans by Odin Vili and Ve, tying us into the conscious world. Odin also ensouls the dwarves, from the maggots in Ymirs flesh. We read too of the first confrontations between Aesir and Vanir - the sorcerous Gullveig, implicitly a Van, is speared and burned, and becomes known as Heidh. Subsequently, there is war and truce between the two races of gods, and three of the Van come to live in Asgard. In Skirnismal, the next link appears - the Vanic god Frey is married to a giant, Gerdh. Odin sets up the whole situation - note how he vacates his high seat so that Frey can find his love and fall in love and start the changes, and how he provides the attempted betrothal gift Draupnir, though it is rejected by his alien beloved. Odin does all this, even though Frey's intended belongs to the forbidden race of Etins. This tribal transgression, this bit of cosmic exogamy, is the final link that ties together the races of Aesir, Vanir and Giants. Elves are already tied into the Vanir by Odins tooth-gift to Frey of Alfheim.
The story of Frey and Gerdh has some odd resonances with humans relationship to information technology. Gerdh may be seen as the completely alien mineral consciousness of silicon - bright and shining in the eastern sun, cold and white, atomically similar to carbon - why doesn't it make life like carbon does? But it does - Etin life, that cannot find wisdom in the Havamal, that has no lust for fruits, for immortality, for gold, for anything a carbon-based life-form would recognize as useful or fun. It's getting on with its own slow timestream, away from ours, and it's happy that way. Only brute force of magical will in a moment of desperation works, to bring it into the realm of the other races, to marry it with the Lord of Life, to create a new form of life.
Was this mineral consciousness originally an echo of the quartz chambers of the Neolithic passage graves? The Lord of Nature rules these, and it may be that their function is to transmute humans into the elven stream via interaction with silica substrates over long periods of time. In this century, of course, the world half-expects the fast but stupid silicon-based computer to evolve soon into a true intelligence, or something very like it. It is almost as if the great bard who first told Skirnismal programmed the intellectual preconditions for the manifestation of mineral intelligence centuries later. In that version, Skirnir is the technician, the scientist, who makes the damn thing work, who has to do the dirty work of cursing dumb silicon into reluctant life, presenting this new being as a fait accompli to his master.
Who, then, is the Seeress? A giant? Only giants are older than the Ase who goes to her for the story. But really; is she not too human
I shall return to this question.
Read two reviews of Bright From the Well at http://www.mandrake.uk.net/davelee.htm