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  • Writer's pictureAndreas Kornevall

Eternal Roar Of The Dragon

Updated: Jan 11, 2021

Originally published with Little Toller Books In 1643 an Icelandic Bishop called Brynjolf Sveinsson was given forty-five pieces of vellum containing poetry and prose. The words on this vellum are thought to have been written down around 1270. Which person, or family, had protected this manuscript for over four hundred years we don’t know – but we can be sure that it would have been a treacherous secret to bear safely through the medieval centuries. It had been hidden from public view all that time, presumably, to protect it from being destroyed by the representatives of the Roman Christian Church. The Bishop did not himself keep the manuscript; instead, he offered the collection as a gift to the King of Denmark. The manuscript came to be known as the Codex Regius as a result. There it remained, in Copenhagen, until 1971, when it was returned to Iceland. Warships had to transport the manuscript across the sea, as a plane journey was seen as too risky, such was the preciousness of the cargo. It is not surprising: these vellum papers represent the few written remains we have of Northern European pre-Christian culture. They are known today by the collective name of the Eddas. What stories do we find hidden in amongst these ancient animal skins? These are stories that speak of beginnings and endings, of great conflicts, betrayals, murder and self-sacrifice for the greater good. There is a lesson about what happens when we try and harness the power of giants. Supernatural beings found within these pages include gods, goddesses, trolls, dwarves, dragons, elves and many other beasts and monsters that are particular to the landscapes of Northern Europe. Why should we care about tales this old, and distanced from us? Perhaps one of the best definitions of mythology comes from the 4th century writer Sallustius: “Myths are things which never happened, but always are.” This phrase teaches us a great deal about the mythical imagination: that it does not merely reflect the travails of our human life, but guides us through the longings, yearnings and the existential search for our hidden human soul. When reading these myths, even today, we create a world of meaning. Here are some of the major themes imaginatively retold from the Edda – I am re-telling a small part of the creation myth, the expressive informing power of the dragon and a snippet of Balder’s Dreams (the Killing of the Light). I am also including my own personal gnosis and interpretation. *** This is how it all began. Before the verdant forests, seas and mountains, there was only a first primal anonymity, named Ginnungagap: an apt name for a something incomprehensible. Another name for it was the witch’s cauldron containing all possibility; or more simply: the mother of light. Ginnungagap was filled with rune songs. When they were heard, fire exploded into the darkness. This fire is named Surt. Surt lives in the heart of all flames; all heat and explosion even now stems from that primal source. Another realm was born from the magical songs, too: the realm of ice. An opalescent world of shrieking winds. For eons, ice and fire lived side by side; but then, between them, something took shape. A being of clay, a first born, an androgyne named Ymir: the screamer. Ymir screamed into the emptiness with a voice that still rumbles and thunders today. This original scream is the heart of every scream since, the sound of the newborn, our original mantra. The screamer was hungry, as all babies are. Help was granted by the great Holy Cow, Audhumla, the most forgotten of all the old goddesses of Northern Europe. She stood amongst the ice boulders; if darkness mothers light, Audhumla mothers the living world. From her teats flows a glimmering milk, which we still call the milky way. Ymir suckled this until full and then fell into a deep sleep. In his sleep, he sweated from strange dreams, and a being called Mimir (memory) was born out of his damp left armpit. More beings were born, too: elves, giants and trolls. Under Ymir’s sweaty feet, something else also appeared: the vertebrae of all myths worthy of that name – a dragon. This dark reptile, which we still see in storms, lightning and seething whirlpools, rises to the heavens or sinks to the roots of the Tree of Life. It has been part of our collective, cultural dreamtime ever since. I know an ash tree, named Yggdrasil, Sprinkled with white clay dew drops fall from it upon the valleys; it stands, forever green, above the well of memory Voluspa (The Prophecy of the Witch, Poetic Edda, English translation: Jackson Crawford) We humans, we were brought into being from inside trees. Odin exhaled his spirit-breath towards an elm tree and a beautiful creature was revealed walking out of its trunk; her eyes animated and alive, and in the shape of a chalice. Inside of her, new life was to sprout. She was the first woman, named Embla. Then from the ash tree was revealed another creature with a clear brow, his body hale and hearty: the first man, named Asc. The ash and elm are humankind’s ancestors. Both trees hold our deepest memories of who we are and we share their fate. We would do well to remember them and care for them. This origin story is a poignant reminder to the current predicament of the ash and the elm. The head of the gods, Odin, killed the screaming Ymir and placed his skull as the sky above the world of humankind. His salty and clear blood formed the oceans; his bones and teeth, the mountains, his hair the forests. This killing caused a great debt owed by the gods to the giants, it is the same debt owed when we harnessed the bull to plough a field, or when we build roads and prune our hedges. The giants will claim to what is owed to them. The word for this debt repayment is Ragnarok: a time when even the thrones of the heavens will be reddened with gore. Ymir’s skull above us is always thinking; his brain is the clouds; they are the weather systems and the climate over this middle earth. The sun turns black, the Earth sinks into the sea, the bright stars fall out of the sky. Flames scorch the leaves of Yggdrasil, a great bonfire reaches to the highest clouds. Voluspa (The Prophecy of the Witch, Poetic Edda, English translation: Jackson Crawford) The Goddess Freya, a nature spirit, travelled to the world of the sky gods and spoke of magic in their halls; the same magic that had been whispered in that primordial dusk. But the sky gods feared her runes and spell work: they speared and burnt her three times, but each time she came back alive and more powerful. Because of her mistreatment, a war was unleashed between the nature spirits and the sky gods. This war still rages in our world. I remember the first murder ever in the world. when Gullveig (Freyja) was pierced by spears and burned in Odin’s hall. They burned her three times, she was reborn three times; often killed – still she would live again. Voluspa (The Prophecy of the Witch, Poetic Edda, English translation: Jackson Crawford) A reconciliation ritual between the sky gods and nature spirits was made from the original grail: Odrerir – the ecstasy giver, a revered vat that influenced Christian writers. In this vat the gods of nature and the gods of sky mixed their tears and spit. In the centre of the grail is the resolution between opposing spiritual forces, the marriage between heaven and earth. The panacea of the gods, a coming together for a new state of being. When the words of forgiveness were heard in the air, the sacred waters shimmered and the crown of creation was born: Kvasir, wisdom. Kvasir was a god who had the wisdom of all the gods combined, born from the grail. But it didn’t take long before the dark elves cut Kvasir’s throat and drained his body of all blood, which they used to brew the most potent elixir for themselves. It was the tears, spit and rage of the gods that made the elixir powerful. Once the brew was finished, anyone drinking it would have mastery of the highest art form: poetry. The ravens told Odin of Kvasir’s fate. Odin wanted the elixir for the gods, since it was made of their essence. He journeyed down into the heart of a mountain in the shape of a serpent; a serpent that could smell with its forked tongue, and hear with its skin. He slid down to the crystalline underground chambers, to look for treasure. The snake, Odin, met a giantess singing spell-songs to protect the poetic mead from any intruder. He slithered towards her. She took him and played with him through her fingers. She was seduced and in a trance. The snake spoke and told her that he only wanted a small sip of the mead of poetry. He promised to tell the world her story, that would be remembered for all time. Her name, Gunnlod, would be immortal and unforgettable. She agreed to these terms. But as Odin neared the vats, he transformed into a giant golden eagle and drained all the mead to the last drop. He soared higher than all birds, and began the ascent towards the crown of the Tree of Life, high up toward Valhalla. Like a mother eagle, he regurgitated all the mead into the throat of the gods. But a few drops fell, as they drank. They fell on our world. Whenever we feel full of inspiration and ecstasy, we taste some of his blood, but it’s a rare stain in our world. Much of Kvasir’s blood also spilled onto the moon, and since, all poets and lovers have looked at the moon for inspiration – to obtain a sprinkling of the mead of poetry. Old Norse stories are complex and rich. In this tale, or group of tales, we learn of the serpent’s, journey towards depth and darkness. His journey into the underworld stirs up soul powers and breaks down barriers. Once the return begins, Odin has become a golden eagle. He has earned wisdom in his underworld quest, and been transformed into an ascending spirit of the upper worlds. By going into the unknown, into the dark regions, the gods are given their powers, treasures and gifts. It’s in these two images – the serpent and the golden eagle – that we have the alchemical birth of the dragon. In the old esoteric works of the runic language, the journey towards this ‘dragon wisdom’ of uniting the soul (underworld) and spirit (upperworld) can be seen encoded in the runic letters. On thousands of rune stones across Scandinavia, the body of the dragon is etched into the granite, with the runes always adorning the dragon’s neck and body. The dragon is fettered into the granite to bind the runic inscriptions, protecting both the runes and the reader. The first twelve runes of the runic alphabet known as the Elder Futhark reveal the deep imagery of the chthonic journey. The last twelve depict the upper journey. Joseph Campbell wrote of the three steps on the Hero’s journey: the severance, the forest and the village. The rune row gives us twenty four, as each rune is a guide through the dark and towards the light. This comes from its non-linguistic symbolism, which represents the ideas and qualities of the runes throughout their thousand year old tradition. This rich writing system ended with the colonisation of incoming Latin. This runic information was reserved for only a few rune initiates over the centuries, but now in modern times, it is being revealed outside of the world of obscure Scandinavian ‘black books’ (Grimoires) and magical orders. It is a recently discovered wisdom tradition in the truest sense of the word. The journey from underworld to upperworld – the journey towards the light we are all travelling on – is never easy. Obstacles are always encountered. Another central story in Norse myth concerns Loki, a trickster god, using an arrow kill the light, personified in the form of the ‘beautiful god’ Balder, the son of Odin and Frigga. The arrow pierces Balder’s heart, he dies, and the light slowly fades into the underworld. Such is the grief of the gods, that Frigga goes against the laws of the ordered cosmos and sends Hermode, whose name translates as the ‘courage of thousands,’ to ride down to the underworld, to bargain with Hel, the goddess of death, and bring the light back into the world of gods and men. Hel responds to Hermode’s request with a proposed deal: ‘If everything in the world will grieve for Balder, then I will send him back. But everything must weep: the stones, the rivers, the sky, the trees, animals, men, gods: everything!’ Hermode returns and Frigga hears Hel’s instruction. She speaks to all of creation and every stone and sea, all start to grieve for Balder. A depth of love in creation is revealed: a love and compassion that encompasses more than the world of gods and humans; which includes all the beings in the world, animate and inanimate. But one giantess refuses to cry. ‘y eyes will be dry for Balder,’ she says. As long as this giantess refuses to share her tears; nothing can be done to bring Balder back. His light remains imprisoned in the underworld. To have dry eyes for Balder is to deny the world our love and our praise. Today, to have dry eyes in the face of the sixth mass extinction is to refuse Hel’s bargain. All of life – mountains, rivers, forests – has a longing for the light to return, and it is weeping for its absence. Entire economies and lifestyles have been created which seem designed to avoid looking at the roaring dragon in the underworld. To deny the world is to deny the dragon. There are many ways to deny our material reality, the richness of the living Earth: some religions, economic theories, pure greed, ignorance. All of them keep the dragon chained below. Reclaiming an understanding of the old myths contained in those ancient parchments requires a radical shift of perception. We have been taught to look at myths from a distance. But the ‘courage of thousands’ is to be found inside of you. The myth of Balder asks you a question: when were you down there in that underworld carrying a message back from Hel? What did you do when the world wept for the light? The dragon’s eternal roar has been heard across the world since its birth under the feet of the screaming Ymir. She has been delicately painted on the papyrus of Egypt, or carved into the granite rocks of Scandinavia, and with the swirling black ink of Chinese calligraphy. The dragon of our unconscious swallows us with its terrifying jaws, as the ocean swallows titanic ships into its abyss. It tears at our orderly lives, like a tsunami an uncontrollable and unknowing power, greater even than the gods. The dragon lives in the deepest part of our psyche, where the light of the intellect cannot reach. As a culture, and as individuals, we have become complicit in the death of Balder. Now we have to dare to face the underworld. This is the hard path of transformation, which, according to myth, leads to the pearl of wisdom.

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