The Berserkergang: Somafera and Odin
The particular somafera practice engaged in by the ancient Germanic peoples was called the berserkergang, which is often translated as "going without armor". This practice was a martial one, and also a cultic practice of those devoted to the god Odin.
The very name Odin refers to his gift of the gangr. Odin means "stirrer to fury". And this is how the god brings out the gangr in his chosen heroes. The berserkergang was always spoken of a madness that overcame berserks during battle, or during hard labor. It is a fury, a rage brought out by the god that frees those he gifts it with from the limits of human endurance and nature. The few references that exist to the techniques the ancient berserks used to deliberately induce the gangr show that dance may have played an important part of elevation, and that in particular, the berserks saw themselves as dancing with Odin, a dance of ecstacy and abandonment, that led to transformation. Odin is not simply the stirrer to fury. He is the liberator, the breaker of bonds and restraints.
But these are not the only ways in which Odin and Odinic practice is concerned with the berserkergang. Odin is a god greatly concerned with the loss of the self, in all of the ways that may occur. He is god of wine, the drink that steals the self. He is god of battle and battle-madness, and these are both examples of loss of the self in the exigencies of the moment. He is god of inspiration, which is another form of self loss. He is god of sex, which is the loss of the self in another. He is god of seidh, which is transcendence of the self. Odin is a god of many names, or heiti, and each of these names refers to a different part of his nature. One of these names is Svipal, and means "The Changeable" and I think best reflects his impermanent, ever changing nature. Odin has no real self in the permanent sense, as the name Svipal shows. And because of this he is all possible selves, for he can become anything that he needs to become. Here is a great mystery for those who practice the berserkergang. The berserkergang is the loss of the ego, the conscious self, and its replacement with (in most cases) the self of the animal spirit of the fetch. Odin as Svipal shows us that in order to truly become a different self we must lose whatever attachments we have to our current selves.
There is another way in which Odin gives the gangr, another way in which those who practice it draw closer to him. This is in his nature as bringer of dreams and visions, in his guise as Svafnir (The Luller to Dreams). The gangr is a highly visionary state, and can be attained entirely in the realm of visions.
Although there are different kinds of animal-berserks (such as bear, boar, cat) the particular animal experience I have of the berserkergang is of the wolf. In Norse mythology the wolf is a creature of death, and the dead. Wolves are intimately connected with the underworld (Hel), and the presence of the dead on the earth (the Wild Hunt), and the battlefield. Wolves are in some ways considered to be a personification of dead spirits. As such the experience of berserking as a wolf is a connection to and inspiration by Odin as the Grim Reaper, as Death. It is an experience of Odin as lord of the battlefield. It is the experience of Odin as the Wod Hattr (The Mad Hatter) under which names he leads the Wild Hunt, the train of the living dead out upon the surface of the world (or above it, actually).
To approach Odin these ways is to approach death. And approaching death is the central facet of the Odinic devotee in ancient times. While there are few opportunities anymore to face death on the battlefield, the berserkergang (especially via the wolf) is a way we modern people have to approach Odin in this aspect this closely, which is a necessary thing to do in some way or other in order to be found worthy of Valhalla after death. After all, the attainment and keeping of the gangr is a struggle, and a struggle that bears its own unique risks. And struggle is the heart of the Odinic path.
top of page
Being a Maenad: Dionysos and Somafera
Long before I ever practiced somafera, I called myself a maenad. I was a female worshipper of Dionysos, and I liked the descriptions of the bands of followers he attracted. But I didn't really understand the first thing about being a maenad.
My first real experience happened during a ritual I did with some friends - just an ordinary harvest-type ritual, except that something happened to a few of us: we stumbled onto ekstasis. It was different than mere drunkenness - the world was suddenly strange and magical, the woods were alive, and I could sense the spirits dwelling within. I felt wild and unbound, and knew it had something to do with Dionysos - I found myself eating leaves and crawling around in the dirt, like an animal. Later, when I "came down" I knew this was a turning point. From then on, I became fascinated with ecstatic states, and began researching and experimenting with different methods. I began to understand why Dionysos is called Lusios (the Liberator), how he loosens all of the bonds that restrict us, how through ecstatic communion with him we are freed. I even started researching the dances of the maenads portrayed on Greek vases, hoping to find a clue to the rituals they used. But I still didn't really understand what it all meant.
Then a couple of years ago, I realized what was missing - the physical aspect. I mean, I had had a few Dionysian experiences in rituals that were physical in nature - like trance dancing, for instance. But they were the exception, not the rule. As many of us do, I had been focusing on the emotional and mental aspects of spiritual contact, and had been essentially ignoring the physical - in part, because I never felt very comfortable in my own body. Then it all changed. I remember one night in particular, I was in a slightly altered state of consciousness, and I was dancing to some music in my apartment, as I liked to do, and in one move I bent all the way backwards until my head was almost touching the floor - and I stayed like that, for the rest of the song, even though I was not nearly strong or flexible enough for that kind of stretch. But I had Dionysos with me, and I felt I could do anything. From there, it was like a domino effect. I began pushing myself further, always by connecting with Dionysos first - his strength, his power, his Freedom gave me abilities I simply didn't have on my own. I started to be able to resist pain more than I could before, even to touch flame to my skin and not feel it. And then it occurred to me - these feats were exactly what the mythical maenads were said to have done, when in the thrall of Dionysos! And that is how I began the practice of what we now call somafera.
Dionysos is the perfect god to work with on this path. He is Agrios, the Wild One, he is Mainomenos, Frenzied, he is Nyktipolos, the night prowler, he is Omadios, feeding on raw flesh, he is Polygethes, bringer of many joys, he is Teletarches, lord of initiations, and he is Zagreus, the Hunter. And the maenads are called the pack with which the god hunts. I see myself as part of that pack. Intoxicated with wine (the god's blood), wrapped in animal skins, dancing and running and howling, the maenads are transformed in their communion with Dionysos - they are something between animals, humans, and gods, they are fierce and frightening and beautiful. They can plunge their torches into the sea and pull them out again, still flaming. They can chew poisonous herbs and not be harmed. They can dance with venomous snakes in their hair, and feast on the raw meat of an animal they have torn apart with their hands. And all of these things, I think, are truly possible, through the power of Dionysos. He can transform you into an entirely new kind of creature - and that is what somafera is doing for me.
top of page
The most difficult aspect of the practicing somafera that most new-come practitioners have is letting go. When first elevating, when first letting the animal within out, it can be a terrifying thing to allow conscious control to be lost.
This is because for most people, the conscious mind is their identity. They believe that they are the same as their thoughts. But elevating into somafera turns off the conscious mind, it shuts down all (or nearly all) activity in the forebrain. This feels like "losing control" or "losing yourself". It can feel like you are being "taken over" by your body, or by the animal within. This, perhaps more than anything else, is what can cause our kind to form blocks about elevating, can cause us to sublimate, or bottle up, those parts of ourselves that lead to elevation.
But the conscious mind is not the whole self. After all, most people do not identify themselves with their bodies, for the body can be observed by the self. The body can be altered, as by loss of a limb, and the self is still the self. Likewise, the emotions can not be the self either, for they too can be observed by the self, and altered, and the self remains the self. And thus it can also be seen that the thoughts of an individual cannot be the self either. They can be observed by the self, and they can be altered, and the self remains the self.
I believe the self to be the whole nature. Conscious and unconscious. Awake-mind, dreaming-mind, instincts. Everything taken as a whole. Any one part of it can be changed, altered, affected and still the self remains. To elevate, to become the animal within, to attain the state of somafera is a loss of conscious oversight. But it is no loss of the self. Indeed, it can be seen as a liberating, enlightening experience, wherein one finally sees that attachment to the conscious ego is not in fact the true self, where one experiences, maybe for the first time, the more basic, elemental, universal components of the self, where one sees that the self is not a "thing", not a construct with independent existence, but has more the nature of a garment, which can be changed at will. And this insight will change everything, for to be unattached to a particular part of the self, to not be clinging on to what is only a part of one's own nature, is to be able to adapt perfectly to whatever external circumstances require.
top of page
Embracing the Shadow
There is an important aspect of both psychology and spirituality that the practitioner serious about developing somafera cannot ignore. The psychological aspect was best described by the psychologist C. G. Jung; he termed it the Shadow. The Shadow is a particular sort of Archetype, everyone has one. It is an image representing the sum total activity of those elements of the subconscious that are repressed, hidden, undeveloped, denied, or fought against. It has been described as "the negative space into which the individual evolves".
Following Jung's maxim that "whatever one does not live, lives against one" the experience of the Shadow can tend to be projected onto the external environment, especially others. This means that those repressed elements that the ego most wishes not to be identified with are identified instead as being qualities possessed by other people. It underlies the tendency to blame others, or even inanimate objects, or bad luck for one's own shortcomings and failings. Sometimes this projection finds an individual who superficially reminds one in many ways of the Shadow elements of his own nature. When this happens the projecting person often feels repulsed and instinctively "turned off" by that person.
Deep unmet needs also fall into the activity of the Shadow. This most often results in repetitive behavior. The individual always falls in love with the same sort of person, no matter how obvious it is that the pairing is bad. The individual always gets fired from jobs, and often blames the employers. The same mistakes are made over and over again when the Shadow nature is too strongly repressed.
The Shadow can sometimes slip out and temporarily control a person's actions. This is most commonly seen in that phenomenon called "the Freudian slip", wherein during a relaxed or otherwise unguarded moment one inadvertantly says just what he or she most wishes not to say. This is also seen when one messes up just that speech which one has most rehearsed and most wants to be recited well. It is also the source of unwanted obsessive thoughts. These things are because of a principle stated by Jung that all opposite concepts are stored very closely together in the memory. Thus "fire" is very close to "ice" and "want to" is right next to "don't want to", etc. Relaxation allows nearby thoughts to surface, and this is often Shadow nature.
The Shadow, as has been said, is an Archetype. Some people relate to it as a nearly independent side to their personalities. It is sometimes met, by creative people, in dreams in the form of an enemy or foe.
The Animistic Principle states that associated with every possible thing, both physical and conceptual, is a spirit, a living essence. This is a tenet of many religions. It is a philosophical view as arguably valid as any other. And it is even provable from principles of physics provided that one assumes that the Many-Worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics is in fact correct. And this Animistic Principle says that corresponding to the Shadow is also a spirit that has as elements of its nature attributes that correspond more or less exactly to those of the Shadow. Such a spirit is referred to in various religious traditions. The ancient Norse heathens knew of a spirit called a thusbet, which was said to be a malicious spirit that followed an individual around (some traditions say that every person has one) that sought ever to hurt, embarrass, inconvenience, and kill that individual. Several mystical Christian traditions hold that just as every individual has a guardian angel so every individual is followed by a personal devil. There are several stories of visionary saints and their epic battles against such entities.
Embracing this spirit in the practice of somafera is essential for long term progress. True unity means unity with the Shadow as well as everything else, and this implies embracing the thusbet (or whatever you call that sort of spirit). This will prevent unnecessary problems aring in the practitioners personal life as well, such as projection and repetitive mistakes, that could impede development. It will facilitate destruction of the ego. It is necessary to be aware of the thusbet at all stages in the process of elevation. Striving to simply ignore it will only make it stronger, leading inevitably to the ruination of the transformed state. Fighting to repress it will make it burst out even stronger in an unanticipated manner. This can lead, amongst many other problems, to sudden murderous rage, such as plagued some ancient berserks. And furthermore errors generated by a practitioner's very elevation ritual will be seized upon by this spirit, and the stronger the hold this spirit has over the practitioner's attention, the more these mistakes will ruin his efforts. Instead of fighting it the shadow should be embraced. It should be allowed to affect the individual practitioner however it will. It must not be reacted to or fliched away from. This will accomplish two results. One is that it will harmlessly spend the momentum of the thusbet/Shadow complex by such expression. The other is that it will purify the practitioner by scourging. Trial by fire. It will tear the practitioner apart, and leave empty space into which can expand a newer, better, purer edition of the self.
So for the practitioner of somafera it makes no sense to reach immediately for spirits spirits, the animal-fetch, god(s), whatever right at the beginning of elevating. This is when the practitioner is most human, most out of balance, and most prone to the sort of error Jung was talking about as coming from the Shadow. The effort to call to one's spirits too early will make it more easy to become unbalanced, and fall prey to the thusbet, and to lose the gangr. So best to begin by opening oneself up to the thusbet and first concentrating on the negative aspects involved in the gangr. Open up to destruction, death, darkness, sickness, unbalance. Let these get unbalanced, which then automatically calls one's guding spirits etc. much more strongly than ever direct deliberate effort could! A better, faster, deeper, more balanced gangr results.
top of page
Classifications of Somafera States
There is not one way to attain the unitary state. There are an infinite variety of ways it can be attained, each depending upon the type of spiritual energy used to effect the elevation. This principle can best be illustrated by consideration of two extreme forms of spiritual energy commonly used.
The body can be likened to an electrical circuit as a matter of analogy. And following this analogy, spiritual energy (which has its physical side) can be likened to electric current. In any electrical circuit, there are two things that define how much current is flowing through the circuit. One of these is the voltage of the battery supplying the current; the higher the voltage, the greater the current. The other is the resistance of the circuit to the flow of current. The lower the resistance the higher the current.
So there are also two ways to increase the flow of current in any circuit. One is by increasing the voltage of the battery, forcing more current through the same resistance. The other way is by decreasing the resistance in the circuit, causing more current to "fall out of" the same voltage level.
Each of these methods of raising current in an electrical circuit is like one of the two types of energy commonly used to achieve the state of somafera. The method of increasing current by increasing battery voltage is like the energy of the Norse berserker, called wod, that translates variously as "fury", "possession", and "inspiration". This wod is triggered by the ond, which means "breath". It is often the result of hyperventilation, and is also triggered by pain, fear, and the movement (especially rhythmic) of large muscle groups. Its physical aspect is the release of large amounts of adrenaline into the bloodstream, firing up the blood, setting the mind racing. It feels to many berserks literally as if their blood is burning. It is ecstacy and madness. It readily leads to single-pointed awareness. Learning to develop one's ability to summon and use wod often involves a "full speed ahead and damn the torpedos!" mentality.
The method of increasing current by decreasing resistance is like the energy of esoteric Eastern martial arts styles, called chi in China and ki in Japan. Chi translates variously as "breath", "life-force", and "energy". In almost every respect it is the opposite of wod. Chi is often triggered by maintaining a relaxed body and a supremely balanced, clear, open, empty mind and spirit. Because mind and body are intimately linked, this mental clarity becomes a clarity of the body, which suddenly becomes susceptible to being influenced by the body's natural energy much more than is usual. It feels to somafera practitioners using chi as a subtle yet powerful energy, clear and calm. (This calmness should not be mistaken for ordinary calmness, it is the calm of the eye of the storm.) It readily leads to zero-pointed awareness. Learning to develop one's ability to summon and use chi involves cultivating balance, character work, and maintaining a reasonable pace of development, with good stretches of rest and relaxation. Chi energy has a tendency to be safer than wod energy, but it also is usually slower to develop.
But chi and wod are not the only forms of spiritual energy known in the world. Any type can be used to elevate into the unitary state. But given the extreme and opposite nature of wod and chi, they can be used to model other forms of energy, predicting what sorts of methods and uses those energies are best suited to. For instance kundalini (from Indian traditions) can be viewed as highly wod-like in nature when it comes to those emotions and hormones related to sex, and chi-like in regards to other emotions and hormones. Ruach (from Hebrew mystical thought) can be seen as almost completely chi-like in the method of its triggering (surrendering to higher powers), with some particular emphases on wod-like uses (too much detail to go into here). And so forth.
Both myself and other somafera practitioners are beginning to believe that either of the wod or chi approaches, while each very powerful, contain inherent weaknesses. Chi is too easily diffused and lost, wod is too easily overpowering, leading the berserk quickly down the wrong roads. We are beginning to find, through experimentation, a different state of somafera, which for lack of any traditional term we are calling the Razor's Edge. This is a unitary state that was entered on the razor's edge between wod and chi. There is as much surrendering as there is revving up. There is much madness as calmness. It is very tricky indeed to maintain equal levels of wod and chi at once, without having them simply cancel each other's effects out, but when properly done this is a truly powerful form of somafera, even compared to other forms. The wod provides great power, the chi directs that great power with such finesse and control that it becomes a thing far more powerful than either energy could produce alone. This state can also be maintained, once enetered, rather longer than either a purely wod or purely chi unitary state can be.
top of page
Relating to the Wolf Spirit in Somafera
There are different ways a practioner of somafera might relate to the wolf. The wolf may be the practitioner's guide, a sort of totemic relationship. In this sense the wolf spirit may oversee the practitioner's development and experiences, and lead him or her ever onwards. Or the practioner might become a wolf, spiritually and mentally, in such practices as the ulfhedinngang, or those of the Daoui. Either way, how the practitioner relates to the wolf will depened on what culture's perception of the wolf is dominant in the practitioner's mind, that is to say; what Archetype of the wolf is clearest to him.
To the ancient Norse the wolf was a creature of the dead. They were associated with hunting, and with the battlefield. (Battle was often called by them "feeding the wolves".) A wolf guarded the world of the dead, and the god of death, Odin, was attended by wolves. There were religious possessionary rites where the practitioners sought to become possessed by the dead, which they sometimes pictured as becoming possessed by, or turning into, wolves. Such were the Perchten, the devotees of the goddess Perchta, and the ulfhedinn, the warrior-devotees of Odin. The experience of the ulfhedinngang, or of ritual possession in Perchta's sacred procession, was an experience of the Wild Hunt, of the mad uncontrollable rush of ghosts, a storm of the dead, possessing the body. This turned the spirit-body, the hamr, into wolf-shape. The practitioner saw him or herself become a wolf. The might and main of the ancestors was lent to the practitioner, while they possessed him. The wild might of the dead of all kinds belonged to them. An experience would also be had, in vision, of Perchta, or of Odin in such guises as the Wod Hattr, or the Drauga Drottin.
The ancient Slavic peoples had similar views about the wolf. They also considered the wolf to be a creature of the dead. (This is not very surprising, as the Slavic and Norse cultures were closely connected.) To the ancient Slavs a werewolf and a vampire were exactly the same thing; a dead thing like a man, but like a wolf also, as it is the creature of the dead. (Note the vampire's long wolf-like canine teeth, and extreme body hair -especially on the palms - and thirst for blood.) The Slavic people also had practices similar to the possessionary rites of the ulfhedinngang.
These views of the wolf were partially responsible for the image the wolf had for the medeival European. They took the traits in the Norse and Slavic views and cast them in the absolutist black-and-white view of their Christian faith. To those of Europe in the Middle Ages the wolf was the agent of the devil, a bloodthirsty monster that killed for sport. Werewolves were thus, to them, evil creatures.
In contrast with these are the ways many Native Americans relate to the wolf. For some of their nations the wolf was a teacher, and thus best related to as a guide in the realms of the spirit. Also emphasised, both amongst them and by many who relate to the wolf spiritually in modern times in other cultures, are the many other traits of the wolf. The wolf's loyalty is respected (they mate for life) and many experience the wolf's strong sense of the social bond in their experiences of the wolf spirit.
Additionally the somafera practitioner might take lessons from the wolf's hunting style, and as the wolf nature grows in him or her, so will such lessons. The wolf is a tireless runner, known for stamina, but relies, in the hunt, on cleverness, subtelty, and good judgement. The wolf is a very intellectual hunter, and contact with the wolf spirit will reinforce these traits. Wolves tend to pick off the weak and sickly from the herd first, and those who follow the wolf spirit can use its aid to trim such parts of the mind and soul away, leaving a fitter, healthier being behind.
Some practitioners might relate to the wolf in a very symbolically spiritual way, as the ancient Norse and Slavs did. Others might relate more to the wolf in literal ways, as if the possessing mind is an actual animal wolf. Others still might combine these ways. However they are approached they have much to teach; the wolf is one of the most common animal-fetches in many different forms of somafera.
top of page
Life as a Wolf
A majority of somaferans feel they have not one, but two souls, or internal natures; one is that of a man, the other that of an animal. With some the animal nature is small, and only comes into the forefront at rare intervals, such as during the deepest gangrs. With others it is so much a part of them that it is equal to or even dominant over their human natures. I am an ulfhedinn, which means that my animal soul is that of a wolf's. And my wolfish side is as strong in me as my human one. This makes my life quite different from those of most people, in more ways than just during gangrs.
My first gangrs occurred during young childhood, starting at the age of seven. They were simply altered states of consciousness and physiology, and had no specific experience relating to the wolf spirit. But as I got into my teenage years I started to become interested in wolves, and I started to experience times where I felt that I was, in some way, a wolf myself. Over time these feelings developed into the notion that my spirit was in part the spirit of a wolf, born into a human body.
As a young man, as I came to find a spiritual path in my life, I started to practice seidh, which is a Norse soul art, not unlike shamanism. And as I did this I started to work my spiritual connection to the wolf into the larger framework of my practices, and came to see the wolf as my animal-fetch. (The animal-fetch is an ancient Asatru concept similar to the totem spirit of some Native Americans.) I continued to have spontaneous experiences with the gangr, but still never specifically connected them with my wolfish nature. However, the more experiences with the gangr I had, the stronger my connection to the wolf became.
As I took up practicing Asatru, I started performing rituals with a group, usually on a wooded mountainside we had access to. One summer something that was, at the time, very unusual happened. After the ritual was over I felt myself fading away, and something else coming out, or waking up. Suddenly it seemed as if I had been possessed by my animal-fetch, and that I had become a wolf. My mind was a wolf's mind, and my desires became wolfish desires. I moved about on all fours. When I looked at myself I saw a wolf's body. I spent the next couple hours hunting things through the forest. I could see everything, as plain as if I were in daylight, though previously it had been so dark a night that I couldn't even see the trees.
Then I started associating the berserkergang with my wolfish side, for the experience on the mountain had had much of a gangr experience to it, what with the sense of power I felt and the increased sensitivity of my eyes. I started to realize that the gangr was, at least for some, a matter of becoming possessed by the animal-fetch. Eventually I took my initiation into the practice of the berserkergang, and gained some measure of control over it, and then almost all gangrs for me were also experiences of becoming a wolf, or at least a wolfish man. And as I have developed my skills in the gangr, it has started happening ever more easily for me, until it happens even without my intention on a near daily basis. And as this has happened the wolf in me has grown until it feels as dominant as my human nature.
This man/wolf duality does not just mean that I spend nearly equal amounts of time as wolf or man. It means also that some of my mannish nature bleeds through into my wolfish states, preventing dangerous states of undirected rage. And it also means that some of my wolfish nature bleeds through into my mannish states, until I am in a constant mixed state where one or the other might predominate, but neither is ever absent. I often find myself walking on the balls of my feet rather than flat-footed, a very animal gait. I will find that, totally unconsciously, I sniff the air repeatedly, in different directions, whenever I step from one place into another. When irritated or angered I instinctually growl or snarl, and often bare my teeth. This can be quite embarassing when done in public. In fights I will sometimes use my teeth as one of my primary weapons.
But my wolfish nature extends to more than mannerisms. It runs bone deep. I find that I have a very animal way of relating to other people. I am very loyal to and interested in those who are my close friends or family, those of "my pack", but feel uncomfortable around and avoid just about everyone else. When I feel threatened, or one of my "pack" is, I can easily and quickly work up a violent rage, where my first and usually only instinct is to physically attack my foe, and to not stop until he is no longer a threat. And as this can occur even in really inappropriate circumstances, even when not really threatened, I have been forced to spend much time on character work, finding ways to transform such rage into more balanced emotions. This rage, and overcoming the grip it has had on me, has been one of the biggest issues of my life. Much of my time and work has been devoted to it.
I take very great pleasure in sensory indulgences. I love to run and jump. I love being scratched or petted. I love tastes, and especially the taste of blood. (When cooking steak I merely sear the outside surface.) Smells can be far more irritating to me than to most people. Most perfumes are to me so unpleasantly chemical I cannot tolerate their presence at all. Indeed, in my wolfish state, my senses are much sharper than ever they are in my mannish state, which probably accounts for such things. I can see farther, even read at distances that are normally impossible for me. My hearing is acute enough that I can hear low voices in my neighbor's houses, and I swear I can hear the whine of electricity in the wires and appliances of the house. Once when I stepped on something sharp I was able to tell that it was glass, and not either wood or metal, just from how it slid into my foot. But most noticable of all is my sense of smell. I was born essentially without one. But after my initiation I developed one, and it can often be even sharper than most people's. I have even been able to use it to track where someone I knew had gone. (And very strange it is, too, to suddenly have a sense I'd never possessed before.)
My wolfish nature has also come to determine much of my general worldview. I have quite a hard time understanding the great majority of most people's problems. To me most problems seem quite simple: if you want something enough to pay the price of obtaining it, then hunt it down. If you don't, let it go and don't pay it any further heed. Why make life any more complicated than that? Also, I pretty much leave other people strictly alone. But if they violate my territory, make me feel pushed or hemmed in, then I will actively and aggressively remove them from it. I don't play interpersonal politics, at all. I have no patience for such nonsense. I tend to be very honest with almost everyone, not from any sense of idealism, but simply because I can't be bothered to go through all the work of dishonesty.
I have very powerful emotions. I lack pretty much all intermediate, normal levels of emotion. Any sort of happiness rapidly blows up into joy. The least sadness can rapidly and easily become depression. Anxiety ususally develops into fear and even terror. Anger or irritation can quickly become rage. My daily life is a rollercoaster of emotions. This used to feel like it was tearing me apart. But ever since my initiation they feel right and natural to me, and I have come to be at peace with them. And this means that they no longer dominate my life. I have come to be able to slip out of one emotion and into another as easily as people change shirts. It is like I can experience them without becoming attached to them or trying to cling onto them.
This extreme emotional nature means that it is very hard to hide what I am feeling, and to compensate I have learned to wear a poker face virtually all the time, and have even been thought to be emotionless because of it. It does make it hard to interact with most people, who cannot understand how I have gone from utterly calm to raging in the space of a breath. It has made most of my relationships with women quite stormy, and in the end impossible, for neither of us could relate to the other.
I have no exact relationship to the social structure common to most real wolves and also most people (though with them it is usually hidden). I might call myself an alpha wolf, in that I will not be a beta in social sitiuations of any sort. But the alpha designation is not quite right, because I have no desire to have betas underneath me either. Nor am I exactly an omega, a solitary wolf, for real wolves generally only go solitary because they are weak or sick, and no pack will have them, and this does not fit me either.
Part of my wolfish nature has to do with spirit wolves rather than physical wolves. In Asatru spirituality the wolf is a creature of death, and the dead. Gangrs often feel like they connect me to such forces, and in a deep gangr I will often sense the presence of the Wild Hunt, or other types of spirits. Sometimes I even get the impression of becoming possessed by such dead spirits, as I do the wolf, during the gangr. This connection to death and the dead comes out in other ways as well, such as a desire to seek out fights (something I've had to learn to sublimate), and the desire to train in my martial art practices to the point of death (such as with sharp blades, though I won't go into details here for fear of childish imitators who could endanger themselves.) This crisis training brings out the wolf in me more strongly than anything, and is a very deep and spiritual matter for me.
I have been developing my inherent wolfish nature for so long now it has become so intertwined with my human nature that I can no longer really tell them apart. And this for me is as it should be. I feel more complete, more at peace, than I ever thought possible. For me, the process of finding and studying the berserkergang has been less a matter of learning a skill, than of finding out who and what I really am. Finding this state of being has been like coming home to a home I had never even known existed.
top of page
The Havamal and the Gangr
The Havamal, towards its end, contains a lengthy description of Odinic magic, first in the form of a description of how Odin won the runes, then in hints as to the proper technique for using them, and finally in the form of a series of 18 spells. People have long assumed that the 18 spells of the Havamal must be runic in nature, and have a one-to-one correspondence with the runes. But there is a certain problem with this conjecture. There are no 18 rune futharks that could have been meant. The Elder futhark has 24 runes. The Younger has 16. And other futharks have 28 and 33 runes.
Some have tried to force the runes to fit, either making up two new runes and adding them to the Younger futhork or doubling up some of the runes of the other futharks. But none of this is really satisfying. And the reason for that is that I don't think these spells are inherently runic. That is to say, they are not meant as a description of the rune rows, or their blessings, they are just examples of what can be done with the runes. It would be nice and neat to have an ancient description of the runes immediately following the tale of their discovery and instructions on how to use them, but there is no actual reason to think that this is what those 18 are. They seem much more likely to be just examples of what can be accomplished with the runes.
But that doesn't mean they aren't more complete descriptions of something else. Taking a look at the spells we find:
1)Rapid healing, and help in times of trouble.
3)Fettering your enemies and dulling their swords.
4)Breaking fetters enemies have put on you.
5)Stopping flying spears.
6)Against evil magic.
7)For putting out fires.
8)To settle strife.
9)Safety at sea.
10)Protection from witches.
11)Safety in battle.
12)Talking to the dead.
13)Safety in battle.
14)Seeing the gods and alfs.
16)To seduce women.
17)To make women, once seduced, prefer you to all others.
The fettering of enemies was a popular spell amongst the ancient heathens. They called it the warfetter. Though they described it as magically causing your enemy to become bound, I have (upon inspiration from Odin) interpreted that as being because of their point of view. Being hamrammr, the users of this technique's internal clocks were fast, making their opponents seem still, or bound. This interpretation of the warfetter is backed up by one of the actual descriptions of it. In the Havamal, the magical fettering of a foeman is described as the same spell that dulls their swords. But why would sharp swords be a concern if the opponent were literally bound? Clearly, the warfetter was seen as a more metaphorical bond. Something else restrained the usefulness of their weapons than actual immobility, though it seemed similar to immobility. The fact that the same spell fetters foemen and dulls their swords certainly matches with the experiences of modern berserks, in whom a sufficiently hamrammr state will itself accomplish both the speeding up of internal time that we call the warfetter and the resistance to being injured that causes rapid clotting, and accounts for tales of berserks' resistance to swords. So it seems likely that this spell was actually seen as affecting the caster, not the foe.
Without adding any more liberal interpretation than what I used for the warfetter, it seems that most of the Havamal spells are actually referring to aspects of the gangr. Look:
1) & 2) are obvious, they are for rapid healing, a hallmark of the gangr. The third is the warfetter. Dulling your enemy's sword could be interpreted as meaning rapid clotting and healing, so that your wounds don't bleed. Much as the warfetter was interpreted as a speeding of the body's internal clock. This would have seemed like your opponent's sword was too dull to cut. So the third spell seems to describe well-known aspects of the gangr as well.
The fourth only makes sense. If someone can lay a warfetter on you by going berserk enough to experience extreme psychetachia, then going even more hamrammr would break it by speeding up your own sense of time until it matched, yes? So the fourth one is also consistent with the berserkergang.
5) refers, in the text, to the fact that no matter how fast the spear flies, if the caster's eye even lights upon it he can stop it. But, while people assume that this means that the spear is "magically" halted in midair, the spell doesn't actually say that. It seems to me it can be interpreted as attaining psychetachia enough to bat the spear aside, from attaining a dagaz moment with it. (Is this why "the eye lighting upon the spear" was important enough to stress in the description of the spell? That is how one attains a dagaz moment: to act in the first sight or apprehension of something.)
7) is similarly interpreted as being something to magically put out fires, but what it actually says is that however hot the fire is, the caster can beat it down. It sounds more like it's talking about becoming fire resistant enough to get close enough to physically smother the flames, as with a blanket or something.
8) is for settling strife. Not traditionally a part of the berserkergang as we know it, but it sounds an awful lot like the awen, a supernatural state of wit, wisdom, and eloquence attributed to practitoners of the celtic heroic feats.
Coming from a sailing family, I can tell you that in a bad storm, it certainly requires a unitary state to handle your boat safely. Nine is not inconsistent with having been meant as a gangr practice, especially in a society where so much depended on sea travel.
11) and 13) are obviously part of gangr, as it imparts skill and safety in battle. The resistance to injury they mention is certainly a feature mentioned of berserks. 12) and 14) involve the visionary state, something modern berserks have almost all noticed goes along with the deepest gangrs.
16) and 17) fit too. Some modern berserks have noticed that at least with some women, a gangr state can be very attractive and that state can also increase one's own seductive powers. The silver tongue of the awen, perhaps.
6) and 10) both are meant to give an edge in magical combat, with other magicians or with magical beings. Whatever one's opinions about these things are, the gangr, as any unitary state, is powerfully spiritual in nature, and greatly amplifies one's own perception of spiritual matters and energies. So these too are consistent with the gangr.
While the reference in 15) is unknown, and the purpose of the spell conjectural, it does describe it as giving victory, strength, and insight. As mentioned previously, the berserkergang increases one's strength, and therefore can grant victory, and it is known in modern times for increasing the ease with which inspiration strikes.
18) is deliberately kept secret by Odin in the Havamal.
And also there is the fact that Odin introduces this section as lore hidden from most, even those skilled in magic. This does fit well with the gangr, as the gangr is a powerful unitary state, and the various practices of magic, while involving unitary states in extreme examples, do not always go that far. All-in-all, it sounds like this section is Odin describing his gifts in the gangr to berserks. It should not be surprising that it should follow immediately upon a description of the runes. After all, runes were used in trollaukin, the form of the berserkergang practiced after the berserkergang was outlawed.
top of page
return to somafera home page