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:THE LAKE:

The one-eyed old man told me that the face that I will see

Has paralysed a thousand brave men sure of victory

I cannot fight blindfolded, and I’d freeze if I should see

So I need to sacrifice my eyes to see all from within

Lyrics from “The Lake” by Bathory

In the Autumn of last year, I was driving back from Montréal to my then-home in central Ontario, Canada. It’s a route along the highway I’d taken hundreds of times; the weather was ideal, the sun was high in the sky, and there was a rotten, uneasy feeling in the pit of my stomach. I could not shake the urgency and dread such that, completely distracted, I caved and took a random exit shortly after crossing the border and made an excuse to stop for gas. I went inside to pay and use the washroom, topping up my already-full tank barely an hour out of the city.

I got back in my car, relieved to feel the weight lifted from my shoulders, looking forward to the next five hours of smooth sailing, and within a half hour was annoyed to see the lanes in front of me filled with cars slowing down to a crawl, their hazards flashing as the whole highway ground to a halt. Assuming we had hit construction, or a bottleneck caused by one truck slowly passing another on the narrow two lane stretch of the 401, I was shocked to find myself one of the first on the scene of a brutal accident that saw twisted parts of two tractor trailers and several cars strewn across the road in shining pools of oil and fuel. As the whine of the emergency vehicles rose in the distance and we all shuffled off onto the shoulder to let them pass, I began to reflect. If I hadn’t stopped for gas at that unknown rural service station, if I hadn’t trusted the totally irrational impulse of my gut, I would have been just a few minutes earlier than I was, been just a few meters further west, probably underneath a truck, my car totaled around me, badly hurt. Maybe dead.

Did I pick up on some subtle signal early on in my trip, perhaps a car driving erratically up ahead or a trucker moving slower than most, tired and likely to make a bad decision after many days on the road? Perhaps some piece of important data, lost in the background noise of a tedious and familiar drive, was absorbed by my subconscious, which managed to fill in the blanks and project into the future, giving me the sense of dread appropriate for the likely outcome. Maybe it was some sort of magical premonition. I’m not concerned with what exactly happened, nor am I even convinced these two scenarios represent different phenomena. All I can say is that I’m glad for my gut, and even more glad that I chose to follow it. In fact, intuition is a faculty that should be explored and embraced by literally everybody. 

Many are familiar with the motif from Norse mythology wherein the god Odin sacrifices his eye. Casting the organ into the depths of the well of knowledge owned by the being Mímir (roughly “the rememberer”), the gruesome sacrifice represents his willingness to give up the ability to collect data from the material world, and instead rely on a current of knowledge that, quite literally, now resides in his gut – the powerful and occult contents of the well. Odin later decapitates Mímir during a period of conflict among the gods, and takes up the habit of carrying the severed head around with him, consulting it for advice regularly. This is clearly a series of events absolutely loaded with symbolism. But what does this mean? How can we actually apply this, as an actionable metaphor, to our lives?

While very few of us have access to physical magic wells, and probably wouldn’t have much success using a disembodied head as a magic 8-ball, we do all possess the ability to rely on the intuition that guided our ancestors along the dark path of survival. This capacity only needs to be let out in order for it to make a meaningful impact on one’s life. In the removal of his eye, Odin entered into a state of “half-wakefulness”: with his remaining eye he continues to monitor the external world, continues to make inferences about his surroundings, and symbolically, with the empty socket he consciously refutes the material, his stomach roiling with the liquid from the cistern. This is a state that, if given half a chance, the human mind will revert to – free from the burdensome obligation to think reasonably or sentimentally, this spark of raw intuition is the catalyst for the hair that stands up on the back of the necks of our earliest forebears, huddling in caves, wary of predators.

Clearly, the aim ought to be to straddle the middle way and, like Odin, leave one eye open to the ways of the world and the other directed inward toward the realm of the unconscious. But how can we quantify this? What does this look like?

Consider the following diagram, and imagine that it represents the proverbial lake referred to by Quorthon in Bathory’s eponymous track from the album Blood on Ice:

Beginning from the centre:

  • The bindrune of algiz and naudiz represents the human necessity to transcend the exoteric, the material, and ordinary reality. This bindrune can also be understood graphically as representing a man with hands held skyward, pleading with the heavens as his body is pierced by some earthly implement, recalling Odin in Yggdrasil, or Christ on the cross.
  • Surrounding this is a pair of rings, representing the twin prisons of conscious intellectual and emotional thought without room for intuition, preventing the human mind from fully embracing its own subconscious and walling itself off from a more complete and complex picture of reality (represented by the fog that swirls around the rings’ exterior).
  • At the bottom left, the rune othala, representative of home, inheritance, and in this case earth, sits chthonically in opposition to sowilo, the rune most associated with victory and the sun, in the upper right hand corner. This outlines the duality of the material and the spiritual, and man’s transfixment between the two extremes.
  • At the top left, the rune raidho represents the journey toward a state of greater intuition, while the bottom right is underpinned by the rune ehwaz, the steed, or more metaphorically the journey’s catalyst – perhaps the most important part of the entire image.

What will your catalyst be? How will you exercise your intuition? Into what lake will you cast your eyes?

For many people, myself included, scenarios like the one I experienced on the highway near the Québec border last year are truly few and far between. Many of us may never have the opportunity to see the necessity of intuition spelled out so starkly in what otherwise could not be a more mundane scenario. That being said, it isn’t difficult to find a well of your own out of which the elixir of knowledge might be sampled. Any activity that forces the human mind to function under the haze of free association – rune readings, tarot cards, countless others – offers an opportunity for your own brain to show you what it knows. When we allow ourselves to flit effortlessly between the realm of archetype and the realm of concrete application, when we allow our brain to tell us what it knows without having to ask for it, we unlock this middle way, and we direct one eye firmly outward, while the other “empty socket” becomes a vessel for things-which-we-didn’t-know-we-knew: a particular card in the deck, a particular pair of runes or their relationship to one another – the human mind can divine its own meanings, sometimes alien to our understanding, at a moment’s notice.

When this faculty is exercised, when care is taken to sharpen the associative and the archetypal functions of the brain, one finds them bleeding effortlessly into the realm of the waking day, casting its shadow over the material, and in some way, along that middle path – the “empty socket” is never truly closed.

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