Friday, April 1, 2016

The birth of Kvasir from the sacred truce of the Aesir and the Vanir

image: Wikimedia commons (link).

Two of the most important repositories of surviving records of the ancient Norse myths are the Poetic Edda and the Prose Edda, with the Poetic Edda understood to be earlier (and also more mysterious) than the Prose Edda.

Great sections of the Prose Edda are devoted to the art of sacred poetry -- a very serious subject in the eyes of the Norse skalds, involving the discussion of subjects and truths using coded language.

At one point in the Prose Edda, in a section entitled Skaldskaparmal ("the language of poetry," or the "speech-way of poetry"), the text depicts the jotun Aegir (a sort of "old man of the sea," akin in Greek myth to Phorcys or Nereus or Proteus -- each of whom also had naiads or nymphs for daughters, as did Aegir) having a conversation with Bragi, the Norse god of skalds and poetry and cunning speech and metaphor.

Hearing Bragi say that the expressions of poetry are sometimes used specifically to conceal a matter in "secret language," Aegir asks Bragi:

"This seems to me a very good way to conceal it in secret language. How did this craft that you call poetry originate?"

To this the knowledgeable Bragi replies:
The origin of it was that the gods had a dispute with the people called Vanir, and they appointed a peace-conference and made a truce by this procedure, that both sides went up to a vat and spat their spittle into it. But when they dispersed, the gods kept this symbol of truce and decided not to let it be wasted, and out of it made a man. His name was Kvasir, he was so wise that no one could ask him any questions to which he did not know the answer. He travelled widely through the world teaching people knowledge, and when he arrived as a guest to some dwarfs, Fjalar and Galar, they called him to a private discussion with them and killed him. They poured his blood into two vats and a pot, and the latter was called Odrerir, but the vats were called Son and Bodn. They mixed honey with the blood and it turned into the mead whoever drinks from which becomes a poet or scholar. The dwarfs told the Aesir that Kvasir had suffocated in intelligence because there was no one there educated enough to be able to ask him questions. Prose Edda, Anthony Faulkes trans., 1987. Passage cited found on pages 61 - 62.
The murder of Kvasir leads to the episode involving the later theft of this marvelous mead of poetry by the Aesir god Odin from the jotun maiden Gunnlod, discussed previously here, in a blog post written back in 2014 (which also contains links to some online translated versions of both the Poetic Edda and the Prose Edda). The celestial aspects of that encounter between Odin and Gunnlod, and the stealing of the mead of poetry by Odin (who assumes eagle form) indicate that the origin of Kvasir from the vat likely connects to celestial analogues as well, and likely in the same or an adjacent part of the heavens.

But the aspect of the story of the wisdom-being Kvasir which I would like to focus most upon today is the fact that he is said to rise into being out of a vat into which the Aesir gods and the Vanir gods spat when they reached a truce in their great conflict -- a conflict, in fact, which occupies the first lines and stanzas of the Poetic Edda as well.

In the Poetic Edda, when Odin summons forth the spirit of the wise-woman, she explains that this conflict between Aesir and Vanir had to do with the breaking of oaths and the breaching of boundary-walls, and the treading upon the fields of the Aesir by the Vanir beyond the place where they should rightly have gone (a cosmic struggle associated with the earliest epoch of the theogony, akin to the struggle between the Olympians and the Titans in the theogony of the ancient Greek gods).

Hamlet's Mill explores the celestial origins of this worldwide mythical pattern of the "boundary-violating" Titan-like figures on page 152 and following in the first paperback edition (in the chapter entitled "The Twilight of the Gods"), saying:
But here it appears that there are forces which have worked iniquity in secret. They appear everywhere, these forces, and regularly they are denounced as "overbearing," or "iniquitous," or both. But these "forces" are not iniquitous from the beginning: they turn out to be, they become overbearing in the course of time. Time alone, turns the Titans, who once ruled the Golden Age, into "workers of iniquity" (compare Appendix #12). The idea of measure stated or implied will show the basic crime of these "sinners": it is the over-reaching, overstepping of the ordained degree, and this is meant literally. 
[. . .] 
The Angel tells Enoch:  "These stars which roll around over the fire are those who, at rising time, overstepped the orders of God: they did not rise at their appointed time. And He was wroth with them, and He bound them for 10,000 years until the time when their sin shall be fulfilled. 152 - 153.
Now, what is most interesting is that if this great schism in the cosmos, represented by the battle between the Olympians and the Titans, or the Aesir and the Vanir, connects to the "boundary violating" motion of precession -- and if precession (as with all other celestial analogues in the ancient myths) has a spiritual teaching for us, in that it embodies something about our spiritual condition here in this incarnate life, then the birth from the "reconciliation" of that split of a being who can answer all questions put to it is most significant.

I would argue that it has something to do with the reason we are down here in this "battlefield of incarnation" ourselves.

Somehow, when the Aesir and the Vanir reconcile their differences, and spit one by one into the sacred vessel to signify their treaty, a being arises out of the spit-bucket that is so wise that none can put to it a question to which Kvasir does not know the answer, a being who travels the world imparting wisdom to all.

This would suggest, on the most esoteric level, that when we come down into this incarnate life which embodies an endless struggle or "interplay" between material and spiritual realms, out of this struggle (if we an somehow reconcile or integrate the two) will arise new wisdom which can be obtained in no other way: and which is so wise that there is no question whose answer cannot be found if we can access this being born of the struggle and subsequent pact.

On a more practical level, it suggests that in the struggle and interplay between different people, new knowledge and wisdom can sometimes take shape that none of the individual participants could have seen on their own -- knew insights which, like Kvasir, rise up out of the swirling "pot of spit" created by the interaction of all the different parties, but a being which is in some ways even greater than the sum of the individual "spitters."

Many of us who have been married for a long time may even recognize this to be true in the interaction between the two parties of the marriage -- two parties who may not always agree with one another on every discussion, but who (even when challenging one another) may come up with solutions and insights during the interaction which is simultaneously a product of the two very different perspectives offered by each participant, and also independent and greater than the insights either party could claim to have offered out of his or her own wisdom.

It is this aspect of the "birth of Kvasir" that I referred to when I said that new insights beyond the knowledge of any one of us would be likely to arise out of the interaction with the different personalities and perspectives of those who participate in the Graham Hancock Message Boards -- and at the conclusion of my most-recent term as Author of the Month on Graham's site (for March, 2016 -- my previous visit there having been all the way back in January of 2012) I can say for certain that new insights did indeed rise like Kvasir out of the swirl and "melee" of ideas and observations set forth in the discussions on the Board.

In this world, we face vexing questions -- often, seemingly-insurmountable or unanswerable questions.

But the Eddas containing the ancient wisdom of the Norse myths suggest that, somehow, we can have access to a wisdom which knows no question which it cannot answer.

Sometimes, we can summon this transcendent gnosis when we get together and discuss the problem with those whose perspectives are different from ours. 

But ultimately, the real "transcendent knowledge" must come from the integration of two sides even more seemingly "at odds" than any between two different people -- the integration of the two worlds whose split is represented in the great schism that caused precession, the great battle between Olympus and the Titans, or between Aesir and Vanir. 

It is, I believe, the integration and reconciliation of the realm of spirit and the realm of matter, which we are all accomplishing in our individual lives as we come down here to this incarnate life -- sparks of divine spirit-fire, encased in human-animal bodies of gross clay and plunged for a time into the realm of matter.

The ability to solve any question which faces us here in this earthly sojourn comes not only from the "swirling mix" between individual people, but also from the integration of the realm of the gods.

And that is in fact possible for us to venture even in our present state -- the myths themselves, I believe, were given to us to point us towards that very process.