Exploring the Shadows of Mystic Traditions
Many esoteric systems and magical cosmologies have a profound correlation with the three-tiered view of the Universe which was held by many ancient civilizations. The Upper, Lower and Middle realms of shamanic traditions are echoed in Hermetic thought, alchemy and Kabbalah. In these systems we find an interconnected symbolism that encodes universal truths and archetypes. Interestingly with many of these mystic traditions there are layers of meaning within each symbolic association, pointing to deeper, often darker secrets to be discovered.
For example there is the Qlippothic Tree of Life. It is a shadow of its counterpart showing these sephiroth or spheres as empty husks of their divine selves. This dark side of the Tree of Life is accessed through the void Da’ath. There is also the idea of the Black Zodiac, which presents the negative traits of the twelve classical signs. This modern reinterpretation of the twelve signs gives them sinister names like the Maelstrom (Libra) and the Poisoned Dart (Scorpio). The Western Zodiac and Kabbalistic Tree of Life are cornerstones of the Western Esoteric traditions. There lore is presented across a number of ancient, medieval and Renaissance tomes and works of art.
The tarot is also a repository of this occult lore, hidden in the images and numbers of each card is a vibrant spiritual language available to those who can interpret it. The Sola-Busca Tarot is an enigmatic work of the Renaissance that has been recreated by Peter Mark Adams as The Game of Saturn. (Available at Scarlet Imprint) It is a full exploration of the underground “existence of a pagan liturgical and ritual tradition amongst members of the Renaissance elite.” The dark and disturbing images of this 500-year-old deck reveal a “dark Gnostic grimoire of pagan theurgical and astral magic rites.”
The Northern Traditions
The traditions of Norse and Germanic people have their share of dark deities, ritual sacrifices and chthonic land spirits. What we know of the spirits of these traditions shows their ambivalent nature and connection to the Underworld. Spirits that play a central role in the day-to-day life of these people, such as the disir and the Norns, which a neither dark nor light. The group of deities know as Rokkr are comprised of figures that fulfill this twilight, shadowy nature.
In rune magic and divination there are runes associated with both the creative and destructive forces of nature. The runes of the Elder Futhark are divided into three Aettir, which are each named for a particular deity. Freya’s aett is the first, the second aett is Hela’s, sometimes associated with Heimdall and the third with Tyr. The runes, like the tarot represent at progression of energy with inner cycles, one leading to the next. The runes of later Anglo-Saxons known as the Futhorc Runes have also been associated with Hela, the goddess of the dead.
Hagalaz is the first rune in the second aett of the Elder Futhark. It is the rune of the hailstone, and represents the destructive energy of the forces of nature. This is a rune of both disaster and healing. It is significant in its position as the ninth rune of the Elder Futhark. It completes one phase while transitioning into another. Hagalaz portrays the destructive powers of the natural world; severe weather and elemental forces that wipe away the old, while planting the seed of something new. This rune is connected with wyrd, the inevitable power of fate and the integration of the shadow. In magic this rune can be used for cursing and banishing. It has the energy of dark feminine power, witchcraft and the deep subconscious.
Hagal is the later form of this rune, derived from the Younger Futhark, and is considered the “mother rune” of the later Armanen Futhark. It resembles a snowflake, and the crystalline structure of ice. The crystal matrix is the basis for the runes of the Armanen Futhark. The six spokes of Hagal are reminiscent of the Hexagram, the six pointed star that combines the active and passive principles of creation. In Norse mythology the Middle World was created by the two primal elements, fire and ice. Muspelheim and Niflheim are the realms of these elements. Niflheim, the realm of ice, mist and darkness is an aspect of Helheim.
The Futhorc runes of the Anglo-Saxons, derived from the Younger Futhark are part of the Armanen system of runes. Some practitioners of Norse shamanism and rune magic associate the runes of the Futhorc with Hela because of their often dark and enigmatic concepts. Raven Kaldera on his website expands on these ideas and their associations.
The Rune of the Grave is Ear, a rune sacred to Hela. Its shape is reminiscent of a hunter’s deer hoist mounted to a tree for hanging deer. It also roughly evokes the image of a gallows. This rune represents change like the death card in the Tarot. However, it is a gradual change that takes place over a long period of time. Similar in nature to Saturnian workings mean for long term results that take root over an extended time frame. Those who died a “straw death” as opposed to death in battle, were interred in the ground and given to the goddess Hela. This rune represents the slow and gradual decomposition that takes place inside the earth.
Cweorth is the rune of the funeral pyre, it shares a connection to death and the otherworld like Ear. However, Cweorth is the opposite of the gradual deterioration of Ear. It symbolized twirling fires used to ignite the funerary pyres of Viking Warriors. It quickly burns away the old, forcing us to adapt or be consumed by the fire. It is the counterpart to the slow entropy of Ear.
The entire Futhark system comprises a complete system of human experience and universal forces at play in the cosmos. The runes contain powers both active and passive, human and divine, material and spiritual. The diverse symbols within this magical system of writing reflect the dual nature in all things allowing for all of the nuances of human experience to be relayed through divination.