Mythology and Metaphors, How do Heathens view/use the Lore in their Spiritual Quest?
“What do we actually know about the Old Norse views on creation – the cosmic genesis? Hardly anything at all, it could be argued. All the sources on Norse mythology and cosmology are written sources, written in the Latin alphabet by scholars and monks more than a century or more after the Conversion, and we just do not know to what degree “accurate” Pagan myths survived in the memory of Christian descendants across several generations. Another question is how “accurate” any myth would be in the first place, since the Pagan religion was not a dogmatic religion basing itself on the interpretation of holy books. It was a religion that based itself on magical activities and mystical experience, and myths may have varied according to who related them, when they related them, to whom, and when, and with what purpose. Poetry was a sacred art in Norse Paganism, and poets could take great liberty and apply endless variety in their use of allegory and metaphor in order to convey a message.” ~ Maria Kvilhaug, LadyoftheLabyrinth´s Old Norse Mythology Website
A metaphor is a figure of speech that directly refers to one thing by mentioning another for rhetorical effect. It may provide clarity or identify hidden similarities between two ideas. Antithesis, hyperbole, metonymy and simile are all types of metaphor. One of the most commonly cited examples of a metaphor in English literature is the "All the world's a stage" monologue from As You Like It:
“All the world's a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances ...”
—William Shakespeare, As You Like It
We also can use an example from Norse Lore, specifically from the Edda’s we see the metaphor of The Necklace of the Brisings:
“She had never seen anything so beautiful nor so desired anything before.
The four dwarfs, meanwhile, stared at the goddess — she shimmered in the warm light of the forge. Where her cloak had fallen apart, the gold brooches and jewels on her dress gleamed and winked. They had never seen anyone so beautiful nor so desired anyone before.
Freyja smiled at Alfrigg and Dvalin and Berling and Grerr. ‘I will buy that necklace from you,’ she said.
The four dwarfs looked at each other. Three shook their heads and the fourth said, ‘It’s not for sale.’
‘I want it,’ said Freyja.
The dwarfs grimaced.
‘I want it. I’ll pay you with silver and gold — a fair price and more than a fair price,’ said Freyja, her voice rising. She moved closer to the bench where the necklace was lying. ‘I’ll bring you other rewards.’
‘We have enough silver,’ said one dwarf.
‘And we have enough gold,’ said another.
Freyja gazed at the necklace. She felt a great longing for it, a painful hunger.
Alfrigg and Dvalin and Berling and Grerr huddled in one corner of the forge. They whispered and murmured and nodded.
‘What is your price?’ asked the goddess.
‘It belongs to us all,’ said one dwarf.
‘So what each has must be had by the others,’ said the second, leering. ‘There’s only one price,’ said the third, ‘that will satisfy us.’ The fourth dwarf looked at Freyja. ‘You,’ he said.
The goddess flushed, and her breasts began to rise and fall.
‘Only if you will lie one night with each of us will this necklace ever lie round your throat,’ said the dwarfs.
Freyja’s distaste for the dwarfs — their ugly faces, their pale noses, their misshapen bodies and their small greedy eyes — was great, but her desire for the necklace was greater. Four nights were but four nights; the glorious necklace would adorn her for all time. The walls of the forge were red and flickering; the dwarfs’ eyes were motionless.
‘As you wish,’ murmured Freyja shamelessly. ‘As you wish. I am in your hands.’
These quotations expresses a metaphor because the world is not literally a stage, just as The Necklace Freya longs for is not simply a necklace. By asserting that the world is a stage, Shakespeare uses points of comparison between the world and a stage to convey an understanding about the mechanics of the world and the behavior of the people within it, and By the description of Freya and the Brísingamen (goddess of magic and seiðr) to the Four dwarves (the four elements that are the building blocks of life: earth, air fire and water) we learn the comparison of desiring mastery of our environment, as well as the outward expression visible all who look upon the master will see.(the necklace) We also learn of the sacrifice we must be willing to give for it, by this metaphorical story (sleeping with the repulsive dwarves).
To further understand the purpose of the story which to me is a metaphor for gaining occult power over the elements known as alchemy, we find Odin is very angry upon discovering Freya getting this necklace and we must ponder on why, as in the Norse culture sleeping with whom one chose (especially a Goddess who has ultimate sovereignty over herself) wasn’t a shameful thing as it is in todays Christian based culture. we read:
“Upon rising in the morning Freya realized her necklace was gone! The goddess looked around her; she leaped up and her face colored in anger. When she saw the doors of Sessrumnir were open and had not been forced, she knew that only Loki could have entered the hall, and knew that not even he would have risked such an undertaking and such a theft unless Odin himself had sanctioned it. What she did not know and could not fathom was how her secret — her greed and her guilt and her gain — had been discovered.
Freyja hurried to Valaskjalf and confronted Odin. ‘Where is that necklace?’ she demanded. ‘You’ve debased yourself if you’ve had any part in this.’
Odin scowled at Freyja. ‘Who are you,’ he said, ‘to speak of debasement? You’ve brought shame on yourself and shame on the gods. Out of nothing but sheer greed you sold your body to four foul dwarfs.’
‘Where is my necklace?’ repeated Freyja. She stormed at Odin; she took his rigid arm and pressed herself against him; she wept showers of gold.
‘You’ll never see it again,’ said the Terrible One, Father of Battle, ‘unless you agree to one condition. There is only one thing that will satisfy me.’
Freyja looked at Odin quickly. And whatever it was that passed through her mind, she bit her tongue.
‘You must stir up hatred. You must stir up war. Find two kings in Midgard and set them at each other’s throats; ensure that they meet only on the battlefield, each of them supported by twenty vassal kings.’ The Father of Battle looked grimly at the goddess. ‘And you must use such charms as give new life to corpses. As soon as each warrior is chopped down, bathed in blood, he must stand up unharmed and fight
Freyja stared at Odin.
‘Those are my conditions. Whether they wish it or not, let men rip one another to pieces.’
Freyja inclined her head. ‘Then give me my necklace,’ she said.”
If we remember from another story, it was Freya who taught Odin the arts of seiðr; a shamanic art unique to the Norse culture. We can surmise as Odin was ever seeking more knowledge, he saw the power within the necklace, yet he didn’t fully understand its meaning, or in other words, the necklace is a symbolic item to the trials Freya had to endure to reach a higher state of understanding with alchemy, thereby making Brísingamen a metaphoric reminder to Freya. (oh look, a metaphor within a metaphor!) Thus Odin feeling thwarted on bypassed knowledge as well as new occult power was enraged and tried to force Freya to share or relinquish what power she had gained through personal sacrifice and by a forced demonstration she could now use her new knowledge of alchemy and raise the dead.
As Asatru is based on the stories from the lore, we must ask ourselves are the stories literal descriptions of what trails and exploits the gods and heroes of the ancient Germanic/Teutonic people experienced or are they clever stories told to give deeper insights into the workings of the Norse Cosmology?
I find that personally, to take the stories literally is a left over vestige of Judaic/Christian/Islamic teachings, as most everyone who comes to Paganism, (Norse tradition included) is coming off some form of generations long monotheist faith that touts “the written lore is infallibly the word of God.”
The Philosophy of Rhetoric (1937) by rhetorician I. A. Richards describes a metaphor as having two parts: the tenor and the vehicle. The tenor is the subject to which attributes are ascribed. The vehicle is the object whose attributes are borrowed. In the previous examples, "the world" is compared to a stage, describing it with the attributes of "the stage"; "the world" is the tenor, and "a stage" is the vehicle; "men and women" is the secondary tenor, and "players" is the secondary vehicle.
With the story of Brísingamen, the Necklace is compared to deep occult mastery of alchemy, the dwarves are the vehicle, the sleeping with the dwarves is the tenor, and Odin’s rage is the secondary vehicle.
I find to get the most out of the Lore, we must look deeper into each story and poem if we are to get a full appreciation of the lessons these rich poems are to bestow upon Modern-day Practitioners of Asatru. To understand the real meaning of each tale is the priceless gift left to us by Snorri and those anonymous folks who peened for our Kenning, the Icelandic Sagas.