And off the fellows went;
they stopped, considered
how they might get there
and which way they might reach
The spots where the fire shifted
the lands where the flame poured down.
They came upon a river
like a sea to reckon with
and there old Vainamoinen
began to carve at a boat
to tap one out in the wilds;
next the smith Ilmarinen
made paddles of spruce
solid rods of pine.
So last post we figured out that the cosmic brothers, bard and smith, were off to learn about the ways that fire element works in human experience. A boat is, like all vehicles, a way, a manner, an attitude in which to get from one place to another. It's a sort of subclass of the larger symbol describing state of being, that we got in the images of Vaino-land, or the windows, of last post. For the manner in which we are getting somewhere is one and the same with our state of being at the time. There is a very different feel between riding a horse and riding in a chariot, between riding in an old VW Bug and a new Ferrari, an ocean liner and an airplane, etc. etc.
In our dreams, vehicles often appear; they describe of the same general concept as Ilmarinen and Vainamoinen's boat. Notice this boat is very much handcrafted, from aspects of experience that are untouched by socialization, "the wilds". Exploration of the elements is ideally very much an individual, hands-on experience, and socialization is in a sense often designed to distance us from direct experience. In any case, socialization or conditioning acts as a filter, determining our values, what we pay attention to and what we don't.
This guy's (or gal's) car was tapped out in the wilds...
Mastering elements means developing a level of understanding that is like the Air-lass's tender relationship with the spark Ukko created, like the gardener, the excellent cook, etc. We learn about it, as our brothers are, partner with it, learn how to encourage it and how to diminish it without suppressing it entirely in the indelicate way Louhi has hidden the sun and moon and hearth fires.
The river that is vast and like the sea to reckon with is descriptive of unchecked, constantly flowing nature of the Creation, of Consciousness, of Experience, in general; the sea adds a bit of unity consciousness to the image, for that's the most universal symbolism of the sea, the vastness of the "sea of consciousness".
They meet another Ilmatar, Air-spirit, "eldest of nature's daughters", obviously a very hip source of wisdom for matters of creation, and she asks who they are and what they are doing, just as the Old Moon asks Wynken, Blynken, and Nod. Vainamoinen explains that the hearth fires are out, and so they're seeking to learn about the situation.
The wife put this into words
she declared, spoke thus:
'Fire's harsh to find out about
so is flame to ask about:
the fire has done deeds
and the flame has wrought damage!
This warning is very basic info about fire; it is arguably the most challenging of elements for humans to master. When we know this, we are not only prepared to feel the burn, to meet our own buried anger, but we develop compassion for the misuse of fire by others. Indeed for many of us, we encounter fire in the awesome anger of a parent or other caretaker, and may carry those early burns to the grave, never finding salve for them. If we do that we probably hurt ourselves with fire on a regular basis, and/or others, inappropriately, out of our own hurting. We have not mastered it; we keep creating it and then dropping it, immature, into our world, our personal Vaino-land.
The fire dragon and the fire salamander both represent this challenging fire teaching.
to Thor's new cabin
it set about evil work
it started on dirty work-
broke the breasts of the daughters
fingered the maidens' nipples
it spoilt the sons' knees
singed the master's beard.
Thor is himself a fire god, of course. He has qualities that varied over maybe millennia; being primarily prehistoric in the sense of recorded history, it's hard to pin him down in such a tale as this. We have little written about him, as is the case for all the Germanic and Norse gods. He does live on in English in "Thursday".
The next bit about breasts etc. explains to us the result of immature fire. Breasts are, of course, heart chakra, and we remember Louhi hid the moon in a "bright chested rock." They are also very much representative of the archetypally feminine nurturing aspect of both earth and water elements. Fire on the nipples? Not fun, right? Nipples are very sensitive, and that's one thing that makes them capable of nurturing, of sharing love. Heart can be open to "other" to such an extent that it does not even experience "other" in the dualistic sense, for both earth and water element are unitive. This oneness is described by the experience between the nursing mother and her baby, so that's why that image is used here. If we are lucky, we can still recall something of this state of unitive baby-bliss, one that folks attempt to reenter in adulthood through the use of drugs, orgasm, overeating, etc.
The common symbolism of knees is that they are used for kneeling- for humility, worshipful behavior, for gratitude and letting go. Those unitive states can be difficult for those who often practice anger and aggression. Since anger and aggression are intrinsically dominating behaviors, we naturally experience the desire to dominate others when we are angry; we are carried along in the armed and dangerous "anger-boat". The speed at which motor vehicles travel, a speed made possible through the creating of many little explosions, is a real challenge for folks who have little or no fire mastery. Driving becomes a forum for flipping birdies and curses and negative judgments and competition and more.
As the aggressor, we want to be the ones to bring others to their knees in worldly terms. In fact many of us bury our fire element because we do not like to embody this quality of dominance; count me in on that category. From the perspective of the aggressed upon, and from this worldly-power perspective, a son with spoilt knees could be one who has been the object of too much fire, a man with no self-esteem, always toadying, unable to stand straight and tall, to trust in himself. He's a beaten man. This bit we can interpret as advice for abusive parents, in general, for though anger is archetypally masculine, angry mothers can also just as surely ruin their sons' knees.
"Singeing the master's beard" means wisdom is lost, disappears. A master's beard represents his wisdom gained over the years. In a quick flash of anger, our hard-earned wisdom can fly out the window! The long grey beard always marks out the wise man. I guess a white one's OK, too. Wisdom characters and deities thus invariably sport them. Not sure who this artist is, since I cannot read Finnish...
... There was
a mother suckling her child
in a woebegone cradle;
when it got to it the fire
now did the worst job-
burnt the child in the cradle
and burnt the mother's bosom.
The child went to Death
yes, the boy to Tuonela
who'd been born only to die
looked after but to be lost
in the pain of fire the red
in the hardship of white flame.
Now let's imagine we all have an inner mother, who nurtures us emotionally and spiritually, who can bring forth for us the unitive experience of the nursing mother and child. That's what we're talking about here. The child is creative issue; our desires and inspirations need nurturing. The manner in which this self-relationship plays out has a fire component, since fire is the crucial masculine spark of creation. It's technically a little tough to nurse a child in a cradle, depending on which sort we're talking about. Below, a Lapp mother, nursing her baby in the sort of cradles they (used to?) use, like the cradle-boards that some Native American tribes had (assuming nobody does it any more). The Lapps or Sami are the tribal peoples of northern Scandinavia.
This inner "cradle", this thing which holds our child-self aspect, is "woebegone", according to our translator. That means that, when we refer to this inner relationship, it is already removed from unity consciousness, from a feeling of being held in unconditional love. This woebegone relationship describes an inner event of creation on a personal level, an effort to create some form of unity, but from the beginning it is doomed since successful or authentic creation is by its nature an act of unity. Many women (including myself) have dreams of bearing children, babies, sometimes sons, and what they are often dreaming about is an act of creation of some sort. The most important act of creation as far as the soul-and-spirit is concerned is the birthing of a new unitive "level" of consciousness. Thus the archetypal importance of the birth of Christ, a mythic story like many others that preceded it.
When we don't learn how to manage fire, we stay in dualistic consciousness, is one way to interpret this. Alchemical philosophy views the natural development of the human as a spiral, from unity, away, then again towards wisdom and unity. The wise person has woven the threads of unity through the warp of their fate, through their dualistic personality-experience. The inner children we create represent this more united state. They are often murdered over and over again when not fed the inner "milk of human kindness"; when not fed by a heart-centered, loving way of being in the world. My inner-child-dreams like this typically feature a forgetting; to feed the child. Actually I don't have them much any more.
did not go to Death:
she knew how to banish fire
and how to tame flame
through a little needle-eye
cleaving an axe-poll
piercing a hot ice-pick's slot
along a field edge.'
Aha! So here is something we can do; all is not lost. The opportunities to master fire are going to be countless in the average lifetime. And here is a densely poetic bit of advice. Let's see if I can decode it! It's a toughie.
One way to imagine the mastery of fire (or anything else we experience, for that matter) would be to make it very small, focused enough to pass "through a little needle-eye". It's like that magical image of reaching the hand out and miniaturizing a storm, a wall of water, or, in this case a fire, and making it small enough to fit in the hand, as in the image that begins this post. That which is in our hand is mastered; it is less a threat and more of a tool, right? Falling short in this is what created the whole disaster, as the Air-lady let the fire slip away, out of her control.
Since this bit comes after the one about the child, we assume there is something here about creation. I would say it points out (haha) the archetypally masculine ability to focus, the opposite of the feminine ability to diffuse, to merge. Focus is often at least part of what is meant by choosing. The development of focus, choice, discernment is often a developmental task for female characters in alchemical stories. Air focus is what I am doing right now, when I take concepts which are sometimes rather large, and narrow them down into one word. It's what magic wands do; they are phallic tools which concentrate and then shoot out power of some sort, often light, very similar to Thor's and Ukko's lightning.
We could also think of this concentrated energy as compressed fire/sun energy in the form of combustible gas. That is indeed how some of us heat our homes and cook: creativity. Compressed gas has many uses, and, like the bottled up anger of suppressed fire element, it's highly explosive. The alchemical objective would be to learn how to use the same physiological principles for creation as opposed to destruction, though destruction is also important. We just want it to be more conscious, chosen, as opposed to habitual or otherwise uncontrolled explosions.
Wands, swords, staffs, same thing...Gandalf...
It is particular, controlled in the good way, not suppressed; more is not necessarily better. There's a lesson here about stuffing anger, too, the same as compressing it. Many an angry person bascially adds fuel to the fire over and over again, pissed off about one thing after another. Soon they've got some compressed emotional gas, right? Then they get overwhelmed with the fire element and they can't stop. They are living explosions, loose cannons, blasting away. When the flames die down and they see the damage they've done, it can be tragic; many a marriage or other relationship is in ruins, many a boy sent to Tuonela, land of the dead, whether literally or just as living ghosts. Shamanic healing does have a particular modality aimed at reclaiming, retrieving parts of the soul which have been severed from the psyche, and reside in some Otherworld. This all too common loss of soul connection is what's symbolized by zombies.
In the mastery department, in our self inquiry and our self contemplations, in our observing the world around us as well, discrimination is the ultimate use of the archetypally masculine ability to split, to create duality. You could say that all self inquiry is an exercise in discrimination. We learn, through observation and paying attention to thoughts, feelings,and behaviors within and without, where the border is between passion and angry aggression, when our excitement and joy turns into fear and greed, how and why we fall from positions of self love, nursing the child in the cradle, into a woebegone sense of powerlessness and neglect. When we see, we choose; This, not that. Until we can see ourselves choosing, poking holes along the edge of the field, we think we do not choose.
So all the masculine tools, including those that are straight, hard, warm (or hot, same thing- fire), and focused (like the laser), are ideally, from the alchemical standpoint, used FOR THAT WORK of inner discrimination. Not for getting our way in a worldly sense; for dominating, punishing, for climbing social ladders, for getting our way at the expense of others, or for beating up on ourselves so that we remain always in the duality consciousness that is part and parcel of aggression.
The "field edge" is a liminal place, in the broadest sense. Liminality is the specialty of deities like Vainamoinen; symbology is liminal. Liminal space is neither here nor there; it knows both places at once, so Vainamoinen is often described as sitting on the tip of a headland. The field would probably be masculine and/or daytime consciousness, the forest feminine or nighttime, interior consciousness. Field is open to the sun; forest is more shadowed. The one who can penetrate (pierce holes) that liminal space perceives the knowledge, the Truth, of both.
Phew! I think that got it. It's always more or less an adventure whenever I go interpreting, and it's so awesome to come to a difficult passage and somehow find my way to the other side! Of course my interpretations are not definitive; symbolic interp is not an exact science by any stretch of the imagination.
Next, three fish swallow fire!