In Myles Mulkeys poem about the sword forged by Petr Florianek for the exhibition "The sword-form and thought", taking place at Klingenmuseum Solingen, there is a strong emphasis on the civilizational aspect of defending the mead hall, and thusly the hearth fire. In an unfathomed world of wild woods and mountains, wild animals and creatures that are less than man but more than beast, of Evil and savage beings lurking at the forest´s edge, respite is only found in the "comfort of home and kin/ the house of music/ song of lyre / the gleaming joy of bright hearth fire".
In Beowulf this respite is assaulted by exactly this representant of the savage forces of the wild, Grendel, a being that is more and less than human, belonging to the wild. In classical Arthurian romance from Chretien de Troyes to Wolfram von Eschenbach, there is always a kind of double - loop - structure with the Arthurian court serving as an anchor point; the hero comes from the civilized world to the court to venture (aventiure: what comes to the hero) out into the wild. The wild is a place where giants, hermits, fairies and trolls live. Grendel belongs to that sphere. He is a troll, so to say, even if he is not called that name in Beowulf, for it is a Northern Scandinavian word. There is a strong etymological connection of the relatively modern word "troll" to the ancient word "þræll", thrall. A Thrall was a member of society which had not the same rights as Jarl or Karl. In some cases, the þræll slaves captured on raids, but it is almost safe to say that even more so the þræll were formerly free men who were sentenced to thraldom due to debts or other transgressions against the laws of society. þræll had next to no human rights whatsoever, and they were very much subject to the capriciousness of their masters. Some few of them might even have led a life with not as many hardships and could become free again by working hard, but more often than not they were just like slaves. They had no right of bearing arms, severe restrictions towards housing, food, and even sexuality and could be killed without further ado. It is safe to say that some of them preferred to hide in the woods to become outlaws. They were "skóggángr" not because of a sentence, but to remove themselves from the hardships of thraldom. This trade is of very much questionable bargain, for they had to flee the company of their fellow humans and had no part in human society anymore. This made them very dangerous to human society; deprived of their humanity, they were no longer obliged to follow the laws of man. Their life must have been even harder than that of þræll in society, and despair must have been their constant companion.
Lacking weapons to succeed in survival in the wilderness, they either had to develop skills and prowess or steal from the society they had to abandon, or both. This is one aspect of the "troll" that endangers society. Even in modern internet language, a troll is someone who defies the cultural consent, e.g. in internet forum platforms. But there is more to the troll than just the sociological and historical aspect. Trolls were associated with sorcery (gáldr) and witchcraft (seidhr), so much in fact, that some curses worked in an indirect way; to curse someone you had to insult the trolls in his name to inflict their revenge upon that person.
Given that some þræll in fact were "imported" from Sápmi, and enslaved from the indigenous Sáami peoples with a strong background in shamanism (which in fact, is the very essence of galdr and seidhr, as in divination, the lore of potions and rituals to reach the other world), it can be argued that this might give further evidence to this theory. Also, the Sáami people are genetically distinct in the whole of the North and thusly look different, too. So there is another aspect: A xenophobic impulse to demonize an obviously different kind.
This historical ground might have paved the road for the mythological spice. In Norse mythology, there was the antagonist race of the Gods, the more primeval giants, powerful, but demonic forces. The Gods were the ones civilizing the wilderness by building Asgard, Midgard and Utgard and the nine worlds, but they were not responsible for the world tree, Yggdrasil, nor what lay beneath. The worlds of man and Gods were constantly threatened from outside: In the Iarnwíd (iron wood) around Asgard (and Midgard), out (út) side the circle or orchard (gárdr) there lived the jótunar (jótunn) or thursar, the giants and trolls of old. Given that mythological grammar always takes place in "illo tempore" (THAT time) in contrast to the "haec tempore", the actual time and in "illo loce" (THAT place), myth always mirrors reality and the other way round. What now becomes a most intriguing aspect of this process is that this is not a one-way street, and follows fractal logic. So what happens in "illo tempore" sees a manifestation in actual time. Along these lines it was possible to build the actual Babylon by driving an iron pole into the soil to fix the would-be, potential Babylon to the earth of every day life by "nailing the Tiamat (snake of Chaos)" (Mircea Eliade). So Asgard is a symbol coinciding the act of building Asgard in the wild by tricking the frost giants out of it with the act of building a home in a hostile environment. Now comes into play what I would like to call a dualistic coincidentia oppositorum; for troll and god are two aspects of the same process or state of being; one, representing the untamed, hostile wilderness and the other the order of human society. I personally believe that troll and god are psychological aspects united in one.
Now let us conclude: The troll represents the untamed wilderness. In a world where wilderness reigns supreme, this is a threat to mankind. By myth and by magic, by cunning and craft, man strives to preserve "the gleaming joy of bright hearth fire". The troll, who stands outside of human society, threatens the delicate balance and therefore has to be extinguished.
I recently read a most excellent article on the martial arts and zazen concept of Satsujinken-Katsujinken. Roughly translated from Japanese this means "a sword of life-a sword of death" or "the sword that kills, gives life". This is somewhat difficult to understand. In short, it is exactly what Myles says in his poem:
"(...)the one respite
Found by men
Is the comfort of home and kin;
The wooden walls
Of carven hall
Of roof and rafters raised up tall,
The house of music,
Song of lyre,
The gleaming joy of bright hearth fire.
Bold heroes must
Make safe that place
Holding monsters in grim embrace.
With bare hands
And their wills alone,
They could not hope
To return home.
And so the smiths
Did labour long
To craft the lute
Of raven song;
They forged a sword
And clad it in
Moonlit silver and ember gems.(...)" (Myles Mulkey, Béado-Léoma, 2015)
The ritualized centre of the "gárdr" was the hall, the "house of music", but this was not all about this building. In the hall there was spoken justice, tales of lore were told, tradition was kept, alliances were forged. It was the very centre of civilization, and civilization was crucial for the survival of the kin and families. It was crucial for life. In Beowulf, Grendel kills every guest of Hrothgar, the prince of the Danes. So he threatens life, as the trolls and the creatures of the night in Myles´poem and in the concept of Petr´s sword. Satsujinken is the sword that kills. In order to preserve life, the opponent, the creatures of the night, the demons of the wild, have to be killed off, fended off, so that life can be defended. Thusly, the sword that kills, preserves civilization, and thusly, gives life.
But a sword that kills to preserve life, still kills. The question in Zazen now is, is it legitimate to kill 100 bad guys (which would be legitimate in that line of thought) in order to preserve the lives of 10 innocent people? Or, is it legitimate to sacrifice 10 innocents to preserve the lives of 100? And, what is Good and what is Evil?
Let me now look at it differently. Nowadays, the story just goes the other way round. We have one of the most complex civilizations in history. Crops are genetically manipulated, there is little wilderness left. Many wild animals died out because we "fended them off", "defended ourselves", killed them. Wolf and bear and birds of prey have been routed because they endangered our civilizational asset. But the scale is turning; by doing so we completely messed up the ecological balance. Even the sword, which was replaced first by the gun and then industrial killing machines, machine guns, tanks, rockets, now is belonging to a subconscious part, to the wilderness we strove to rout. But killing this off only leads to more killing, and we killed the stories and tales of lore and the mead hall together with wolf and bear and troll.
Wolf and bear and troll were feared in ancient times, but also respected in the early period of civilization, when the mead hall was an actual respite. Later on, killing them became a sport. Christianity gave many princes and champions the legitimation to rout what did not fit into civilization; head prizes were paid for the killing of wolf, bear, man and "troll". Everyone and everything that or who did not fit into the gárdr, had either to bend to fit the scheme or was killed. This is not necessarily due to the actual gospel, but more often than not might have its roots in the fact that most people were illiterate and just sought a legitimation to live out their violent mindset or even their fear, as it is still the case. The "go forth and multiply" and the assumption of power over the Earth in my book was never meant to be THIS way. But the wine is spilled, the deed is done, the wench is pregnant, so to say. The sword, that much is safe to say, no longer is the symbol of our time. It is tank, and whip, and credit card. The sword has been discarded into the wilderness in the back of our minds, together with cross and Bible, tale of lore, wolf and bear and troll and fiend, God and Giant, magic, even science. Mammon reigns supreme and the end justifies the means. Grey Gods rule from the top story of temples of glass, gold and concrete, grey gods of their own devices decide the ins and outs of life and death, with scarce mercy and with jaundiced eyes they survey this world for bargain. They calculate loss and bargain, and nothing more. They are not evil, but they stand opposed to the concept of good and evil. They are not black nor white but strive to bring an eternal grey. They do not mean any harm. They destroy life in itself.
The bad news is-they are us.
What we have done is irreversible. We have destroyed an entire world of life while we thought to preserve life. The question is not who is the bad guy anymore, but when or where we were going amiss.
I personally would say that we have to accept that there are two worlds, and both are absolutely necessary for our survival. To wield the sword that gives life we have to accept there has to be a balance. We have to be troll and warrior, fiend and defender at the same time. We have to be balanced ourselves. We have to be coincidentia oppositorum, sic et non, yin and yang.
It is hard to understand, but it´s time to lay down the sword. It´s time to take up the sword and fight to the death. It´s time to kill and hate and love and give life. It´s time to inflict wounds and heal wounds-but it is also time to inflict only those wounds we can heal, to take life only if we can give or have given life. The hands of a king are the hands of a healer...
Phrases at first glance, well, and contradictory ones. To understand this we have to realize exactly what we have done; and I personally have the impression that our mistake was to kill off ALL of the wilderness. With no wilderness there can be no respite, without darkness there can be no light. At least humans cannot tell the difference. Without being able to tell the difference, there is indifference. Indifference is a grey void. So, by killing off all the wilderness around us and in ourselves, we also killed the gleaming joy of the hearth fire, and we extinguished even the roaring dragon fire of the forge, and the sometimes violent flame of poetry and knowledge gained thereof. Without all of this, there can be no hero, no sword, no song, no smith, no birth, no life.
So we can assume that this our cherished civilization threatens the very centre of life. Paradoxically, it should not be called "uncivilization", for it is civilization that threatens itself. We need Satsujinken-Katsujinken in order to restore it. Civilization is not an enemy. The parody we have made of it is one, but there is no one to blame but ourselves.
My personal line of thought along the lines of trying to solve the problem is what I like to call "Skóggángr" (hey, I have a midlife crisis, so I must be allowed to found a sect of my own, don´t I ? *ggg*). What I mean by this is, that ancient knowledge learned by tale of lore is not dead. It is alive in fairy tales and sagas and manuscripts from the medieval age, in children and old people, in love and lust and joy, in the forest and the green, in traditional bushcraft and housekeeping and homesteading and martial arts, in crafts and arts. We just have to learn to live anew. This goes as far as learning to walk naturally again, to eat food we are made to eat, to wear clothing that does exactly what it should, namely clothe one and not tie one down like a webbing load restraint assembly, to speak, and dream, and sing.
Béado-Leoma not only is made for trolls. It´s made for ourselves. It is a chance. Xiphos is the "piercing light", the motto of the exposition. Four swords have been forged. Four swords were born from fire and the dark soil. Four piercing lights shine in the darkness. But five fingers hold the handle of the sword-birth, life, love and death. Where is the thumb?
Jake Powning found the words of Ursula K. Le Guin:
Only in silence the word,
only in dark the light,
only in dying life:
bright the hawk’s flight
on the empty sky. (Ursula K. Le Guin)
for his beautiful sword he made for the expo. To me, it hits the nail on the head.
Only in silence the word means to me, that while we have access to myriads of therabits (and pieces, pun intended), and there´s always someone talking, we cannot hear the word anymore. We need silence in order to hear what matters, in the world, but more so in ourselves. We have to listen closely to the wilderness within and the bright hearth fire, to troll as well as god.
Only in dark the light: Anyone seen the stars in a big city recently? In order to see the stars, we need a dark sky without light pollution. Working for a city marketing I am well acquainted with the term "territories and spaces of fear", meaning dark places where Mr. Boogeyman MIGHT lurk. In order to prevent Mr.Boogeyman from doing us harm, we light everything with glaring lights, to an extent that we destroy the ecosystem with it, shortly said and vastly abbreviated. But the dark still remains, and if the lunatic Mr. Boogeyman can´t shoot you in the dark, he will just as well do so in the light. We are weak, and instead of getting stronger, we bend the world to our desires. But we pay dearly for that, for we can´t see the stars anymore.
Only in dying life: Oh, we play at being immortal. Our medical science is vastly superior for those who can afford it. We pay for it, and our doctors are bought and paid for; but they market their products, and we pay with fear. Will that virus kill me? Will that flu be my end? Better take some antibiotics... blimey, doesn´t work anymore, virus has adapted to it. Of course, that´s not all there is, and if I am sick, I visit a doctor, if I cannot help myself anymore. But fear is our constant companion. Death walks with us every day of our lives. It gives valuable council, but fear makes us constanly gibber on endlessly like "bibbybabbabubbu" in order to silence death. The bad news is, it won´t shut up just because we want to. And so we fear even more. And our betters tell us in order to be deprived of all fear we just have to abandon our dreams and beliefs and passions and affections, for they are dangerous, and we confuse sedation with peace.
Freedom is not being without laws. Freedom never is free. It is lonesome, and there is an empty sky to be crossed. But only then we can live our truest light. Only then we can forge our inner sword, our dragon´s spine, our pillar of fire, our tree of life. Only then can we fly.
Only then are we legitimate to take up the sword. Yeah, we WILL fall. We will do worse than we intended. We will make mistakes, we ultimately WILL die. We will be sad. We will be lonesome, and bitter, and hurt. We will be faced with our dark side.
But the hero walks into the darkness wielding the flame. He wields the flame of life even when he deals death. There is nothing simple anymore, and in order to find your appropriate master these days, you have to be a master yourself. But walking the way has no alternative. And things will find themselves, and everything will fall into its place. Oh, no, it will not necessarily be all good. But there will be stories-if we tell them. There will be drawings and paintings-if we paint them. There will be wild love-if we live it. There will be stars-if we dare to walk out alone into the night.
And, maybe a long time from now, we will find a tiny spark of the hearth fire beneath the ashes of grey, and maybe with our flesh and bone we can kindle it anew.
I wished it should not have been in my time, but it is idle to wish. What I wish is without relevance.
But still, there is this spark waiting for me.
Isn´t it all a great adventure?;-)