One of the most important tasks of any religion is, obviously, the attempt to understand the soul, and the state of the soul in life and in death. The Heathen concept of the soul is richly complex and many-faceted. It is a challenge to try to understand it, even the soul of the adult, where we have the benefit of consciousness, expression, and observation to help us. Greater still is the challenge to understand how and in what stages this many-faceted, soul-body complex develops in each of us, from the moment of conception until the point when, according to Heathen belief, we are possessed of complete souls, at the time of naming.
We have used every element of lore, logic, science, and faith that we could lay hold of, to try to understand and describe the probable course of this fascinating development, and we present the results here for our readers comments and discussion. We will follow this article with another one in the next issue of Lina, discussing our view of what happens to the soul-parts of the child who dies unborn or before Naming. We hope that these ponderings will not only contribute to the communitys knowledge of infant development, but will also enrich the body of general soul-lore, since we believe that an understanding of how anything begins is crucial to ones understanding of its true nature.
Below, we discuss one by one the major elements of the Heathen soul, and the point in time when we believe each element of the soul-body complex appears in the developing baby. We begin with the soul-parts that we think appear in the baby before birth, and then continue with those that are added at the time of birth and the time of naming.
The Lich, Lyke, Lichama
This is the physical body, being woven in the womb with the genes serving as the warp that shapes the weave.
The Hama, Hamr, Hide, Scinna or Scinnhiw
The soul is contained within the Hama as "an energy/matter form just underlying the Lich." (Wednesbury King's School, The Structure of the Soul/Body Complex, 1994. This is also a reference for some of the other points made in this paragraph.) The Hama serves as a skin for the soul when it is outside the body, hence the Angelseax names for it: "hama= home," "hide/scinna=skin," "scinnhiw= radiance/color/beauty shining out from the skin." When faring forth from the body, the Hama keeps the soul's energies from being dispersed, and protects the soul from harm, much as the skin does the body. The Hama looks like the body it belongs to, although powerful wights can shapeshift theirs. It might even be more accurate to say that the body looks like the Hama it belongs to. The Hama is the "ethereal image," the scinnhiw, one sees when perceiving a ghost, and it is the Hama that gives a ghost its human form.
We think that the Hama grows along with the Lich as the baby grows in the womb. Much as the amniotic sac protects the baby's Lich, the Hama will protect those aspects of the soul forming within the mother. During normal health and state of mind, the Hama and the Lich are always associated with each other--they appear to need each other for the wellbeing of both. Separation of the two parts weakens the body-soul complex--a fact that is well established in the lore of all traditional cultures which recognize the phenomenon of soul-faring. During the crucial time when a baby's Lich is being formed, it makes sense to assume that the Hama must be there with it, to guide, strengthen and shape it. Now, of all times in a person's life, is the Hama's power to shape the Lich most needed. By the same logic, one might explain the cause of a number of problems and failures during gestation by positing the absence or weakness of the Hama: problems such as malformation or overall puniness of the baby.
People often remark on the "radiant look" of a pregnant woman, and the word "radiance" is almost always used, not some other synonym for health or beauty. Perhaps this radiant look is caused by the mother now carrying two scinnhiw--"radiant skins"--within her: her own and her baby's. Scinnhiw might be the right Angelseax term to use to describe the gift of Lodurr when humans were created from trees, which is variously translated from the Old Norse term as "blooming hue," "color," "hair," or "good appearance." If so, this would mean that his gift was really the Hamr or soul-skin.
The term Feorh is translated by the ubiquitous soul, spirit, as so many other words are, and as such, perhaps cannot be said to exist yet in the unborn baby. But the primary meaning of Feorh is the life-principle, the essence of life. In this sense, it clearly is present in the fetus. One has no difficulty distinguishing a dead fetus from a live one, and the difference is the presence or absence of its Feorh. This is not yet the breath of life, the Ond or Æthm, which will not be given to the baby until birth, but it is nevertheless the life principle, present in a unique form and tied firmly to the baby through its link with its mother.
Gundarsson notes that the verb derived from (Hugr), hyggja, is generally used for to think or to intend. (Teutonic Religion, p.136) Modern Heathens generally use this term to denote the faculties of reason and intellect. While translations of the Angelseax term Hyge seem to overlap considerably with other related terms such as Mod, one mental faculty that seems to belong particularly to the Hyge is intentionality. The intentionality aspect of the Hugr is shown very early in the unborn infant: by the age of 16 weeks it has opposable thumbs, and images of babies in vitro at that age have shown them sucking their thumbs. Some intention must be present to cause this action. It seems that the Hugr begins to appear very early in the unborn child, but takes many years--all through life, really--to reach its full expression in a mature human being. Several aspects of Hugr that are also shared with faculties named Mod and heorte (heart), namely courage and strength, are shown in primitive form in the babys determination to live and thrive, even before it is named and fully ensouled.
Mod and Will
Mod is translated as heart, mind, spirit, mood, temper, courage. The term generally applies to the more emotional parts of ones being, though it is not cut off from thought and other rational functions. As stated above, rational thought may take many years after birth to fully develop. However, the more emotional aspects of Mod--mood, temper, courage, spirit--are exhibited very soon after a baby is born. No parent of a newborn child would deny that this little wight has a temper and mood and mind of its own, even before its Naming! Did these aspects of its character arrive suddenly at birth? We think it is unlikely. The Mod and the ways the Mod is expressed are tied to physical aspects of the Lich, including the intricate hormonal system that allows the body to express emotions of all kinds. Indeed, genetic research has begun to identify genes or gene-complexes that influence Mod-like aspects of the character, such as shyness, the drive to take risks, and other traits.
It seems to us that Mod is tied to the Lich, especially at the beginning of life. As a person grows in strength of character, discipline, and will, one gains the ability to carry a high/strong Mod even when the Lich is weak or in pain. But in childhood, or in a spiritually immature adult, Mod is high when health and strength are high, and falls when they do. It seems clear that Mod and Lich are closely linked, and therefore it seems likely that the Mod begins to form fairly soon after the Lich does, perhaps when the nervous and hormonal systems are beginning to develop. A babys genetic heritage may well also have an influence on its Mod, as current research is beginning to indicate. As the newborn baby arrives with a well-formed Lich, so also it brings a clearly discernible, though immature, Mod with it.
The same may be said of the Will. The newborn baby does have a Will of its own, which it expresses very vociferously! It is indeed in very primitive form in the newborn, and does not begin to develop into its mature form until the other aspects of the soul-body complex also begin to mature and to interact with the world and gain experience and wisdom. The Will needs the direction it gets from the Hugr, and the strength of Mod and Main; these faculties are also increased through the exercise of the maturing Will. These complex interactions do not begin to show fruit in any appreciable way until later in the childs life, but the raw material of Mod and Will are already in the child at birth, waiting to be shaped.
The Myne or Minne is usually regarded as the faculty of memory, including the ancestral or transpersonal memory which resides in Mimirs Well. It could easily be argued that there is a preconscious connection between the child and the Well, long before the child is able to verbally express its memories, and there is some imagery and symbolism in our lore to support this. One image is another holy well, Holdas well of souls, that comes from the continental Germanic tradition. Holdas well holds the souls of all unborn children, and those who die unborn or die in childhood return to the well in her care, until it is time for them to be born again. While residing in the well, the childrens souls are in the all-encompassing love and care of the Mother, in direct contact with deity. Through her, they may gain an uninterrupted flow of Myne, on a preconscious level, that is obscured by the everyday distractions of consciousness after they are born and begin to mature. The wisest of our modern Heathen thinkers have suggested that all the holy wells are truly one Well, just different levels of it, and we believe this is so. We include Holdas Well here, and see it is a part of the one Well, and thus connected with Mimirs Well.
Then, there is another well in the picture: the well of the waters of the womb. Many modern Heathens believe our connection with Mimirs Well, and with our ancestral gods and goddesses, comes to us through our genes or through some metagenetic passageway. If this is true, then the Myne of the newly-conceived baby is the very first soul-part that it obtains, right at the moment of conception, as the genes of egg and sperm join to form the genetic map of a new being. And the newly-sparked Myne floats and is protected in the waters of the primal well, the well of the womb, that could be said to be a part of the one Well. We believe that the soul that Holda draws out of her well and puts into the child is the complete soul that the child receives at Naming. But, while the fetus is in the womb, the womb is Holdas well. The child is at one and the same time in the Well and in the womb. It shares the physical life of its mother because it cannot yet live on its own, and it shares the soul-life of Holdas well in the same way, because its own body-soul complex is still incomplete. As its Lich grows toward independent life, the soul in Holdas well, connected to the baby as the baby is connected to its mother, waits until the time is come for Holda to draw it forth and give it into the Lich. Perhaps the soul in the well is also going through growth and development during this time, making adjustments to fit it to its new home, and decompressing from the residue of previous lives. And all this while, we believe, the babys growing body-soul complex is being bathed in the waters of the Well, washed and permeated with the powers of Myne and memory.
Now we come to the parts of the body-soul complex that, as we understand it, most likely do not reside or develop in the child before birth.
Ond, Æthm, Ealdor, Aldr
Ond or Æthm is the life-breath. Obviously this breath is not present in the child until the moment of birth. Wodens gift of Ond must come in that moment, when for the first time the child draws in the breath that is, as Diana Paxson says, "the link between the physical and the spiritual worlds. As the umbilical cord connected the unborn child to its life-source, its mother, so the breath is now the cord that links the Lich to the world and its life-force. The Ond given in the first breath vitalizes all the parts of the soul-body complex that have been building during gestation. As anyone who has given birth or been present during it can testify, this moment is like no other. The room is charged with energies and it is truly a time of meeting between the worlds!
We have been told by Jeffrey Runokivi of a custom still followed in parts of modern Germany, that is said to be very old: the father breathes into the mouth of his newborn child. This is a beautiful enactment of Wodens gift of Ond, and would be a deeply meaningful addition to modern Heathen birth rituals, or to the Naming ritual.
During the time between the moment of first breath, and the Naming of the child, the Ealdor or Aldr, the life-age, begins. This term is connected to the life-breath, and signifies not only ones age, but encompasses the life-force itself, as well as elements of wyrd, main, and honor. It is not just the passage of time, but something that belongs to the self--to the Ealdorgeard, enclosure of life --and continues as part of the self while life endures. While later in life one can have some influence on ones Aldr through ones actions, the Eddas tell us that the Norns visit each child after birth and fix the general shape of its Aldr for life. Folk tales tell us that this visit of the fairy godmothers occurs during the Naming ceremony, and show that the Ealdor which is fixed by them at that time might be written around, but not undone. (An example is the tale of Sleeping Beauty, where the death-curse of one fairy godmother was commuted to a 100-year sleep by the intervention of another one.) Since the Ealdor is seen as both the life-breath, which would make it begin at the moment of first breath, but also as something shaped by the Norns at the childs Naming, we are claiming that the Ealdor begins to become part of the childs soul at birth, and completes the process when the Norns give shape to it at the Naming ceremony.
The Fetch or Fylgja is a persons totem or guardian spirit that usually appears as a member of the opposite sex, or as an animal compatible with one's disposition. This is said to become attached to the infant along with Orlog at nine days of age; thus the naming is done on this day. These two elements, Fetch and Orlay or personal wyrd, are intrinsic to one another. Both Edred Thorsson and KveldulfR Gundarsson believe that the Hamr is the source of power for the Fetch. With that in mind it would make sense to believe that the Hamr develops within the child in the womb, and then, firmly knitted to its Lich and strong in that connection, meets with the Fetch at Naming. The two become complete at this moment.
Wyrd, Orlog, Orlay
Wyrd or Orlay is shaped by the layers of deeds that one lays in wyrds well during the course of ones lifetime. Clearly, an unborn baby will have no wyrd generated from its present lifetime. Accumulated wyrd is also carried by ones Fetch from one lifetime to the next. However, since we believe that the Fetch is not yet present with the child in the womb, the baby must have no wyrd, until it is joined by its Fetch at its ninth-night Naming.
Mægen, Main, Hamingja, Luck
It may be that the phenomena named in this title are not all exactly the same thing. However, we will treat them as being similar or the same, because we have not the space to try to sort out the subtle differences here! There is also a good deal of discussion as to how closely the Hamingja is tied to the Hamr, or whether they are the same thing. We are proceeding on the assumption that while these two are connected, as is the entire body-soul complex, they are different things and arrive in the baby at different stages of its development.
Main can be thought of as very powerful magical/spiritual energy, similar to mana or manitou, and is closely connected with wyrd, orlog or orlay. Main is contained as magical force in everything, but here we will confine our discussion to human Main only. Individuals seem to start off in life with different amounts of it; these differences are probably related to their deeds and wyrd accumulated during past lives and carried from life to life by their Fetch. Main is probably also passed to each person by the Kinfetch of his or her family, and is also picked up (or lost) through interaction with the family and sharing in the wyrd of the kin. An individuals Main can be gained and lost by ones actions, decisions and behavior during life, and overall, by the kind of life-pattern one weaves for oneself. Since Main is gained primarily by actions, clearly the unborn baby has no opportunity to develop any of it, nor is the newborn much more likely to. Not until the Will and the Hugr begin to play a significant role in its life will the child be able to gain (or lose) Main for itself.
However, as noted above, Main also comes to the individual through the Fetch, Kinfetch, and the living familys Main. These sources of Main are available to the newborn child after it has been through its Naming ceremony, since this is the point in time when the entire family, living and dead, accepts the child into their midst. It is possible that some Main is gained for the unborn child through calling on its ancestors in rituals such as the one described in An Anglo-Saxon Charm Against Miscarriage (Hodge, Lina, Yule 1995), and likely even these small amounts of loaned Main may be very important to the otherwise Mainless fetus. But overall, we would say that Main is a faculty of the soul-body complex that begins to take firm hold only after the Naming ceremony.
We have spoken of the gifts of Woden and Lodurr, namely Ond and Hamr or soul-skin; now remains the final gift of the triad: Wod or Odhr, given by Hoenir. Wod is often described as the faculty to achieve divine madness. While few parents would deny their childs ability to achieve states of madness, there might be some doubt about the divine nature of it! Seriously, the concept of divine madness presupposes a normal state of rational sanity, from which one departs temporarily to attain this madness and the holy gifts that come with it, including most of all a greatly heightened capacity for creative thought and expression. While newborn babies are not to be considered irrational or insane, nevertheless they are in a very different state of mind than an adult normally is. We do not believe that a newborn baby, or even an older baby, is capable of this kind of divine madness and heightened creativity, though the somewhat older child, with more strongly developed mind and skills, certainly is.
However, there is a slightly different slant on the concept of Wod, expressed by Diana Paxson, of which the newborn might even be more capable than an adult: the ability to identify and lose oneself within the divine presence. If it is true that the childs soul has been incubated in Holdas Well, and in constant contact with her divine presence, then indeed the completed soul received by the child at Naming comes very well practiced in this skill. Wod can be said to be the newborn souls normal environment. Once the persons soul is detached from the Well and distracted by the demands of everyday consciousness, one of the consuming purposes of the spiritual adult is to find his or her way back to the babys original oneness with the divine. The newborn may well arrive with a strong, fresh-minted Wod, and then be taught to lose it in the demands of mundane life. Indeed one hears, sadly and all too often, accounts of how babies and childrens creativity and mystical consciousness are crushed out of them by adults demanding that they be sensible, realistic and rational--that they grow up and leave the fairy tales behind them.
If one sees Wod as not only the powerful, demanding divine madness that one thinks of in connection with the greatest artists and thinkers, but also as the gentler spirit of imagination, curiosity, and willingness to blur ones perception of the edges between the worlds, then one can see this ability very early on in children. We cannot think of any way to prove the existence of Wod in a child before it is able to express itself coherently, either verbally or through the use of other creative skills. However, we think it very possible that the soul of a Named child, once all the other parts of it have been brought together in completion, has a stronger Wod than do most adults who have not made a deliberate effort to cultivate their Wod. We think, too, that while contact with adults helps the infant develop its other soul-parts more strongly, contact with most adults is possibly more damaging than helpful to the babys Wod. We suggest this as a serious challenge to Heathen parents and the Heathen commnity as a whole: what can we, as committed spiritual Heathens, do to foster rather than stunt the Wods of our infants and children? Certainly our Heathen community could use the infusion of genius that powerful Wod brings: let us, then, help our children develop this and all other holy gifts of our Gods so they can shine forth as jewels in the world.
KveldulfR Gundarsson. Teutonic Religion. St. Paul MN 1993 Llewellyn Publications.
Hodge, Winifred. An Anglo-Saxon Charm Against Miscarriage: Its Hidden Meaning, Connection with Mound Worship, and Use Today. Lina, Yule 1995.
Paxson, Diana. Hyge-Craeft: Working with the soul in the Northern Tradition. Idunna, Winternights 1995.
Thorsson, Edred. A Book of Troth. Llewellyn, 1989.
Wodening, Swain, and Wodening, Eric. The Structure of the Soul/Body Complex. Wednesbury Kings School of Theodish Belief, 1994.
Ibid, Wyrd and the Nine Worlds, 1994.