Tag Archive: Norse


The film Valhalla Rising was released in 2011 directed by Nicolas Winding Refn, co-written by Refn and Roy Jacobsen, and starring Mads Mikkelsen. It is a dark adventure drama set in pagan Scotland during the dark ages. The main character played by Mikkelson is a mute warrior named One Eye. He is enslaved by a pagan chieftain for the purpose of gambling on fights as he appears to have a supernatural ability to defeat all opponents.

One day while bathing in a mountain stream he discovers an arrowhead which he conceals. He later uses it to cut his bonds and then kill his masters. As he wanders off he discovers that he is being followed by the young boy who was tasked with feeding him while he was caged. The boy has decided that sticking with One Eye is probably the safest option in a dangerous world.

They eventually come across a group of Christian mercenaries who have just massacred a community of pagans and forced their women and young girls to disrobe. They are seen huddling in terror and from the cold. The “missionaries” ask who he is and where he comes from. The boy answers for him and tells them that he was born from hell. They offer One Eye and the boy a place on their ship as they are heading for the “holy” lands to do the same to Muslims and need good warriors.

Unfortunately, due to some abberation of both weather and trans-Atlantic current, the voyagers become lost at sea, surrounded by mist with no wind to fill the sails. As they edge closer to desperation and madness they eventually find that they have arrived at a new land. The leader claims this land in the name of God and declares it to be the new holy land though others think it is hell. The survivors of an attack by native Americans and some intergroup conflict decide the safest option is to set off after the warrior from hell who seems indestructable. This wasn’t the wisest choice as, one by one they are picked off by the natives. In the end One Eye offers himself in sacrifice, without fight, in order to save the life of the young boy.

For me the movie is a comment on society’s psuedo-ethics. The one adult character who showed any moral character was judged to be amoral, from hell, by every other character as a result of being forced to fight to the death to stay alive. The other characters saw themselves as morally and spiritually superior to him thanks to their religious psuedo-ethics, both pagan and Christian. Patriotism is another very similar psuedo-ethic, though not mentioned in this film. They rely on individuals believing themselves superior to others via their strength of belief in or attachment to some “thing”, whether it be a hobgoblin or a piece of dirt.

The film highlights the “Dunning Kruger effect” as it pertains to moral reasoning.

“The Dunning-Kruger effect, named after David Dunning and Justin Kruger of Cornell University, occurs where people fail to adequately assess their level of competence — or specifically, their incompetence — at a task and thus consider themselves much more competent than everyone else. This lack of awareness is attributed to their lower level of competence robbing them of the ability to critically analyse their performance, leading to a significant overestimation of themselves. In simple words it’s “people who are too stupid to know how stupid they are”.”

http://rationalwiki.org/wiki/Dunning-Kruger_effect

 In this case the characters, inexperienced as they are with the concepts of empathy and genuine moral reasoning skills based around genuine moral principles such as justice, beneficence and respect for autonomy, mistake their religiousness for morality…as so many people still do today. In the end One Eye, the social pariah, is shown to be the only character with any sense of strong moral principle or empathy by protecting the child and then sacrificing himself to save the child.

The Four Breathes of Danu

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Born to breathe | forth beauty

Into a world | of darkness

The Alfar | bring forth light

Unto the dull | unenlighted.

Wheel within | the wicker,

Turned by four | breathes of Danu,

Ignite the light | and the fire,

Consume the base | and forge the kind.

Her breathe with | beauty breathing,

Compassion, | that shining light

That caresses | the world and cures

Tortured minds | with kindness.

The second | susserates strength.

Cultivation | of will and wit

Over base drives | and emotion.

Virtue is | her second breath.

Soft breath of | stillness peace

brings the mind | calm awareness.

Danu’s third breath, | tranquillity.

keen, kindling and | beneficent.

Echt empiric | and empathic

Ascendant, | logical thoughts

Chase the dark | of ignorance

With the breath | of understanding.

An explanation of the Alternative verse form used in “The Four Breathes of Danu”

The poetic verse form I’ve used in “The Four Breathes of Danu” is based on the skaldic verse forms used in the Old Norse sagas such as “The Poetic Edda”. Rather than rhyme, skaldic poetry is structured around alliteration, syllablic accent and syllable count.

Of course despite originating from Old Norse, English is different to Old Norse in a number of ways. Thankfully though, it is similar enough to use this poetic form. An example of the difference is in the syllabic accent. Old Norse has predictable lexical stress as the accent is usually placed on syllables in the word stem and so the accent usually falls on the first syllable. Whereas, in English the lexical stress is less predictable and so it is regarded as having variable stress.

There are three forms of Old Norse skaldic verse, Fornyrythislag, Ljothahattr, and Malahattr. Each has a slightly different structure that I have described and illustrated below using my notes, notation and examples from “The Poetic Edda” translation by Henry Adams Belows.

Fornyrthislag – Old verse – four-four measure – normally entitled -kvitha (lay)

each line has a ceasural pause – 2 half-lines

each half-line has 2 accented syllables

each half-line has 2 (sometimes 3) unaccented syllables

the 2 half lines are bound together by alliteration

Fornyrthislag

[2′] [2-3] A [2′] [2-3]

[2′] [2-3] A [2′] [2-3]

[2′] [2-3] A [2′] [2-3]

[2′] [2-3] A [2′] [2-3]

Example from Belows:

Vreiþr vas Vingþórr, es vaknaþi

ol síns hamars of saknaþi;

skegg nam hrista, skǫr nam dýja,

réþ Jarþar burr umb at þreifask

Translation from Belows:

Wild was Vingthor when he awoke,

And when his mighty hammer he missed;

He shook his beard, his hair was bristling,

To groping set the son of Jorth.

Ljothahattr – Song measure – four-three measure – normally entitled -mol (ballad)

first and third line of each stanza are as for fornyrthislag

second and forth are shorter with no ceasural pause

– three accented syllables

– two initial- rhymed accented syllables

Ljothahattr

[2′] [2-3] | [2′] [2-3]

[1’R][2′] [3-4]

[2′] [2-3] | [2′] [2-3]

[1’R][2′] [3-4]

Example from Belows:

Ar skal rísa sás annars vill

eþa fjǫrhafa;

liggjandi ulfr sjaldan láer of getr

sofandi maþr sigr.

Translation from Belows:

He must early go forth who fain the blood

Or the goods of another would get;

The wolf that lies idle shall win little meat

Or the sleeping man success.

Malahattr – speech measure

each line of the four-line stanzas is divided into two half-lines by a ceasural pause

each half-line has two accented syllables

each half-line has three sometimes four unaccented syllables

Malahattr

[2′] [3-4] | [2′] [3-4]

[2′] [3-4] | [2′] [3-4]

[2′] [3-4] | [2′] [3-4]

[2′] [3-4] | [2′] [3-4]

Example from Belows:

Horsk vas húsfreyja, hugþi at mannviti,

lag hayrþi orþa, hvat á laun máeltu;

pá vas vant vitri, vildi þeim hjalþa:

skyldu of sáesigla, en sjǫlfkvamskat.

Translation from Belows:

Wise was the woman, she fain would use wisdom,

She saw well what meant all they said in secret;

From her heart it was hid how help she might render,

The sea they should sail, while herself she should go not.

I have adapted the above forms after experimenting a little. In this form each line is separated by a ceasural pause creating two half-lines. Each line has three accented syllables. There may be one or two in either half-line but no more than three in the whole line. The accented syllables in the first line are alliterated. Finally, there may be three or four syllables in total within each half-line. Thus:

Wheel within | the wicker

1A (3) 2A               (3) 3A

Turned by four | breathes of Danu

1 (3)                           2            (4) 3

Ignite the light | and the fire

       1 (4)       2                 (3) 3

Consume the base | and forge the kind

1 (4)                   2                                (4) 3

An explanation of concepts within the poem:

On reading or viewing works of my creation some may inadvertently come to the conclusion that I believe in spiritualistic concepts. This is not so. I did once have firmly held spiritualistic beliefs in my childhood and young adulthood. However, I have made the long and sometimes difficult cognitive journey to the acknowledgement that my old beliefs were childish and fallacious. I am now what I term an “ethical atheist” who acknowledges what I once regarded as “spiritual” in regards to humanity, really pertains to human sentience. In studying psychology I have found that all the mysteries of humanity are found within the human mind and not within a simplistic notion of duality. This having been said, I do utilise spiritualistic concepts in my artwork and literature. This is purely for the purpose of symbolism. For instance, in regards to this poem, I do not actually believe that the Celtic mother goddess, Danu, is a real entity nor that her breath infuses us with the positive aspects of human psychology that the poem describes. For me, the goddess Danu and her children the Tuatha De Danaan symbolise the refined possibility for humanity. Likewise for the Norse Ljosalfar, elves. As this poem indicates in the first stanza, I tend to link the Celtic Children of Dana and Norse Alfar together in my literary ideas. This is not based on any academically identified link between the two mythological peoples. It is purely out of a symbolic link that I have in my own mind. I like to think of these deified peoples as akin to the Shaolin of China. Members of their respective cultures who spend their lives cultivating their minds and their skills, seeking to attain a higher state of being. This brings us to the next five stanzas that define four of the elements that I believe are necessary in becoming a good human being.

I’ve spent many long years contemplating what is truly good, (I use the term in the moral sense), in humanity and what is necessary to attain that good and evolve as a person. I have come to the conclusion that there are four things required for an optimum humanity. These are compassion, virtue, tranquillity and understanding. All of these are a product of human sentience, not spirituality. They originate in the synaptic firing of our brains neurons. The first line of the second stanza refers to the “Wheel within the wicker”. By this I mean our mind within our physical self. The second stanza is stating that each of us has been born with these inherited abilities to evolve psychologically and override our baser instincts that originate from the more primitive parts of our brain and nervous system. To evolve requires effort, breath. We need to actively exercise our minds in these four concepts in order to evolve into truly good human beings. The wheel must turn. As you will have noticed I also use the symbolism of breathe stoking a fire. A fire of pure thoughts and serenity overriding base instincts of self interest, bigotry, greed, lust and so on.

Compassion is the most important characteristic to nurture in oneself if you wish to become a good human being. Compassion is what separates us from sociopaths. The less compassion you have, the more sociopathic you are. Compassion requires the cognitive ability of empathy. Empathy is a skill that can be taught from early childhood through role-play and giving children practice at critical and ethical reasoning skills through classes such as P4C (Philosophy for Children). Unfortunately, there is little emphasis on these skills in most education systems. Compassion is a skill that requires intelligence but it doesn’t require genius. Thus every person is capable of this, the most profound of cognitive skills. Showing you can calculate advanced algebra in your head doesn’t make the world or yourself a better person. Showing that you can empathise and show compassion does.

Virtue is the term I use to cover aspects of self-control and a general regard and respect for the rights of others. It is about actively choosing to think, speak and act in a way that is courteous and abstemious of base drives.

I first discovered meditation when I joined the local Judo school in my youth. Unfortunately, this is another thing that people tend to mistakenly associate with spirituality and religion and thus is not regarded with any seriousness. At least not in the Western world. Fortunately, as part of my martial arts training, it was not burdened with any such associations for me and I discovered how valuable the act of seeking a calm state of mind is. It frees the mind from stress, lessens drives and emotions such as anger, and it clarifies thoughts. Thus tranquillity is an essential element to evolving as person.

Understanding as I refer to it encompasses the concept of “enlightenment” as defined by the western search for empirical understanding of the world that began again during the renaissance after the long hiatus of the dark ages. It also encompasses the eastern concept of “enlightenment” that has more to do with ones existence as a social and ethical entity. I would go into more detail, however, I have already made this a rather lengthy document for the subject. So I will leave it at this for the time being and hope that I have elucidated the poems structure and meaning somewhat, rather than make it more confusing.

Postscript:

If this encourages you to read the Poetic and Prose Edda or other pieces of Norse literature, please don’t read it blindly and become a Norse god sycophant. If you read them while thinking intelligently you will realise that the Norse gods are criminal in nature. They murder, rape, lie, steal, commit incest and other atrocities. There is nothing worth holding in high regard about the Norse gods. It’s rather disturbing that a whole culture once worshipped these base entities. They represent the antithesis of my poem.

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