Niflheim

I went on a hike a few weeks ago. It was a bright, crisp day, and the colors of Spring were vibrant. I felt energized just by being outside in the forest. The trails, cutting through the trees, were clear and contrasted with the surrounding rushes and grasses. While I was free to go in most any direction in the labyrinth of trails, my decisions were made easier by the clarity of vision offered by the sunlight. Movement was implied, supported, encouraged. Things felt quicker.

A week later, I was hiking in the same forest and it was an overcast day. The light wasn’t enough to create any definitive shadows. There were just different degrees of grayness. The trails were noticeable, but there were less contrast between them and not them. I had the same freedom to wander as the week prior, but now my available choices were less distinct. I could go in any direction, trail or no trail. It wasn’t readily apparent which direction was north, as the rays of the sun were too weak to determine south. Movement was forgotten, bereft, disconnected. Things felt slower.

Nauthiz has been on my mind recently. It is the rune is associated with many things, one of which is that should be, the Norn Skuld and Niflheim. It is also the need fire, where one must act due to the direness of the situation. I can imagine that if one is forced to start a fire with sticks while out in the cold, the amount of effort involved is necessary because to not do so is to likely invite death by cold. Aswynn connects Hagalaz with the collective unconscious and Helheim (and thus the past) and Nauthiz with the future. Helheim isn’t all terrible, having both a dreary and a content aspect to it (Summerland for pagans). There is no drive here. I am reminded of the movie Wall-E where everyone’s needs are met and the humans aboard the ship have no impetus to move, grow, challenge. Niflheim, however, is and unpleasant place. It is the opposite of Muspelheim, fire and destruction and movement and consuming energy. Niflheim is the home of the dragon that eats at and slowly poisons Yggdrasil. It is a land of mists and cold.

Over the years I’ve offered myself to the gods, ancestors, spirits, to teach me, to give me wisdom. I’ve known that this would entail suffering, yet still I’ve asked. It’s been months since my last breakup and I’m not entirely sure what I’ve learned, if anything. Still, over time I put my head down and through the constancy of work, working out, I’ve left the sadness that I felt after the breakup. Even to the point where I eventually went on a few dates. Yet Níðhöggr still gnaws on the tree, the poison is still there. And it was that it was a surprise when a seemingly benign event created a chain reaction of thoughts and emotions within me and a week ago I found myself again in a deep depression. Niflheim made sense to me. Goals, drives, ambitions, desires, hopes, were all gone. The light in the world was too weak to show clarity between things and not things, between wisdom and foolishness. Emotions were flat. Making a decision to go work out, drive to Montana, eat marshmallows, turn around, do a job, contact someone, jump off a bridge, were all arbitrary. They had the same emotional weight as what is 2 + 3? Or what rhymes with cat? Or how many corners does a square have? There was also no emotion attached to anything. E-motion, fuel for movement, was gone. And while I could recognize that I could do anything, I didn’t feel like doing anything. It is ironic that in this extreme freedom was also chains. But this is also depression’s gift. Without the motivation to do anything at all one is still and doesn’t move. One doesn’t do work, meet people, create things… but one also doesn’t jump off bridges either. The result? I spent the weekend doing nothing. I was in a depression. And in this space the only truth that seemed real to me were the poisons of Níðhöggr.

But life sometimes forces us to move, and movement itself creates feelings. It is a well known life hack that if one feels stifled, uncreative, unresponsive, blah, to go for a walk. I had read a study some time ago showing that single mothers who suffered from depression had shorter/fewer bouts as they were forced by necessity to take care of their children. Life demanded that I attend to things. Friends insisted that I meet them. I continued to go to daily CrossFit. And with these movement my spirits lifted and I left Niflheim.

Now I am out of Niflheim and look back and have not figured out what I learned. I am no wiser now than a year ago. What am I to learn from my last relationship, powerful as it was? It showed me some magnificent happiness with her (truly), but also laid bare my deepest fears (to be inadequate for another, despised, and thus rejected). The recent dive into depression showed me that there is still some healing to do, something to grow from. Nauthiz, the need fire. While in that state, what were the things that I needed? What obstacles are there in me to prevent them from being met?

My last readings, both rune and tarot, come back to mind. I’ve not made any more readings as I’ve not fully understood these yet. I was stuck on the notions that I needed to be cherished. But that’s the rub. While in depression the only certainty that I felt was that it was impossible for me to be cherished. This is the poison of Níðhöggr within me. This is the poison that eats away at me. How do I move past this? It isn’t to fill the void with another person or activity. I’ve dated too many people. I’ve learned that people can’t fill the gap. You can’t add gold to a poisonous well to purify it. And if you look at my history, there are far too many people that I’ve dated and it has lasted less than six months. I can count on one hand the number of relationships that lasted longer. While in depression, this simple fact is easily turned into damning evidence of my uselessness and failure in all things.

I designed a tattoo a few days ago. The next day I was walking down a street in another city, noticed a tattoo shop with a dragon in the name, and met a person inside who’s appointment had just cancelled and had an open spot. She also loved ravens, and had an affinity for The Morrigan. She then gave me this tattoo, enlarging the Vegvisir, and it covered the entire inside of my right forearm.

The ravens are the ravens of Odin, Hugin and Munin (Thought and Memory). Ravens are also associated with death. Without death there is no life. Without loss there is no value. Without suffering there is no glory. The Vegvisir is a compass to aid in not getting lost. Most relate it to a compass in the physical world, yet for me it is meant to be one in the other planes, especially Niflheim. The circle of runes around Vegvisir is not simply a circle of an alphabet (as some snarky comments make it out to be) because each rune has a complex of meanings associated with it. It is simply a circle of everything within which I travel. My tattoo is packed with symbology.

I am wanting to go back into Niflheim, depression. I must go to Níðhöggr and converse with him. I’ve recently left the depression but I did not bring gold. I am no better, no wiser, no stronger now than I was a year ago. I am no better now than before I met B. I cannot blame her, nor anyone, for my emotions. I cannot blame circumstance. I cannot blame the Norns. My fate is cast for me and I am blind to it, as we all. Frigg is silent. But what do I take with me as I enter into Niflheim once more? When I am there I am beset with doubt, self-loathing, want, and hopelessness. Pure intellect itself doesn’t help, because it is possible to prove anything with only cold reason. Were it rare to venture to Niflheim for me it would be a simple matter to balance with the energies of [Muspelheim]

. But this is no mere episodic blunder, this is repeated pattern, this is character, and character is destiny. It is either my fate to wander Niflheim, or it is for me to grow. It is unpleasant to return there, but that is where the magic happens, where things are uncomfortable.

But also there is Muspelheim and it was between the two where Ginnungagap yawned its abyss and into which we have creation. It could be that instead of revisiting Niflheim, it is instead to inform my movements. That is, it is with the awareness of self-loathing and doubt that tempers me and allows me greater love of another. Or the fear of being worthless that compels me to act, to exercise virtue.

I’m not sure, either way. But I do feel compelled to revisit the fog. I feel that that even though it helps me in being more humane, that something within impedes my success in love and life. Therefore I intend to enter once more down into the ambiguous fog of icy daggers. The All-Father gave his eye for wisdom, hung on the tree for nine days. It is only in suffering that we grow.

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