Another blizzard visited us during the night. It is early morning, and I am in the silence of the snow. Nothing is moving. I am looking out the window at snow-covered pine trees remembering that one winter in my home town in Northern New York, the drifts were so high, we could step up onto the porch roof. Taking sleds off porch roofs was common that winter. Seeing the world covered in snow instilled in me a sense of the vastness of life–and also a sense of intimacy. Fresh deep snow fall has the smell of cold stone and the intimate acoustics of a great cathedral. Even soft sounds carry a long way. When I was young I loved to try walking on snow shoes, and I loved to go outside at night and look at the stars over snowy fields. Both experiences inspired me to marvel at our early human ancestors. How hard it was to survive. How lonely it must have been. They must have been aware constantly of mortality and the way conditions keep changing, the wind rises, the fire goes out, the temperature drops, darkness falls. James Joyce called the impermanence of conditions the “grave and constant” in human sufferings. Our early ancestors learned this in the Cathedral of Nature.
Igjugarjuk was the shaman of a Caribou Eskimo tribe in northern Canada. Joseph Campbell told journalist Bill Moyers that this shaman once told European visitors that the only true wisdom ‘lives far from mankind, out in the great loneliness, and can be reached only through suffering. Privation and suffering alone open the mind to all that is hidden to others.”
Snow or no snow, I think most children intuit that a greater awareness–a greater way of being–is possible, and that it comes out when we confront great essential forces, or shocking changes in conditions. When I was young, I sensed that I was secretly capable of knowing the kinds of things that Igjugarjuk knew, that our earliest ancestors knew. I sensed that if I was given a chance and the right kind of training, I might be able to know the freedom and strength they possessed. I might be capable of great being.
My father’s ancestors are Scottish and English; my mother’s parents were from Denmark. The early ancestors I thought most about were not Eskimo but Viking. I knew little about them except that they were big, blond, and wild. I skipped over the Viking reputation for pillaging innocents and pictured fierce warriors like Beowulf, men (and I added women) who faced down terrifying monsters like Grendal, who crossed icy seas in open boats and told inspiring sagas in the mead hall. I loved to think of their wildness and fierceness, their ability to relate to great forces, big truths. My mother grew up in the Great Plains of western Nebraska, and I often visited there. In my child’s mind I made no distinction between Plains Indians like the Sioux and the Vikings. They were similarly fierce and brave and capable of deep knowing. They had minds that included the body, Wild Minds that were not separate from nature and the cosmos and hidden things. When I grew a little older and discovered the book Siddhartha, I started linking Vikings and Sioux and Indians from ancient India. When I took a college course in Indian religion and learned of the Aryan migration that swept down into India from the North, I pictured big blond Vikings on horseback, riding like brave Sioux warriors into Mother India where they dismounted and perfected yoga and meditation. I pictured them sitting with legs crossed under bodhi trees, channelling all that fierce warrior energy into awareness. Somewhere along the way, I learned that “veda” meant knowing with the heart and mind together. I pictured the Rig Veda, the oldest of all books channelling and refining that wild openness to life, that knowing that is not split off from Nature, from an awareness of the Whole. Out of college, I read Gurdjieff and learned about lost libraries in Egypt, and lost knowledge, of extraordinary people in Central Asia, a secret brotherhood who knew things hidden to most others. I connected them to my own ancient brotherhood of fierce warriors. I was astonished to visit a famous archeology dig site in Agate, Nebraska, and see photos of great Sioux warriors. They looked like Tibetans and Mongolians (maybe not Vikings) Standing before those pictures out there in Agate, where signs of ancients seas were being excavated in the desert, I dared to believe that there was more to life than my patchwork philosphy, that their capacities buried deep in my DNA, in sleeper cells.
These days, life has punched some well deserved holes in my childhood sense of intimate connection with pan-Indian-Nordic ancestors. I have had a bit of diversity training and I know that I have lived as a modern educated Western white woman. I know that my perspective is painfully limited, and that my ignorance has caused harm. And yet, there are hints…..
One cold winter day recently, I visited the Lohin Geduld Gallery on West 25th Street in Manhattan, and took in the numinous, intricate, spacious paintings of Laura Battle. When I walked into the gallery from the cold street, I felt as if an energy was activated in me, a cellular recognition of the connection between infinite space and the intimate reaches of our own hearts and minds. Exquisitely geometricate, full of symbols, her works looked like maps or astrological or alchemical charts. The artist happened to be present. Amiable and soft spoken, she told me that she spent part of her father served as an ambassador in Egypt and she spent her childhood playing in the ruins of Egyptian temples. She led me to a painting called Spell, an intricate hieroglyphic structure in shades of yellow. I felt called to read it–not to decipher it but to follow where it lead. What I read in it was a powerful wish for transformation. What I read was that art can be a means to enter the “Great Aloneness” and know what is hidden to others. Such people and such works are clues to me that we can be seekers–and maybe even shamans and fierce warriors of awareness–still.
15 thoughts on “Fierce Warriors”
Really enjoyed !!!!!
Thank you for your beautiful, flowing essay that travels through the dream time of history and wonder and ends with humility and hope in the modern day.
All the way across the nation, in Olympia, Washington, we too, received a blanket of snow last evening. My daughter and her friends were ecstatic, going outside to run and play in the thick, falling flakes illuminated by street lights.
My friends also came over and we shared roasted squash soup, some crunchy bread and red wine. The snow outside, rather than sapping warmth from the world, seemed instead to insulate the heat of togetherness.
“Seeing the world covered in snow instilled in me a sense of the vastness of life–and also a sense of intimacy. Fresh deep snow fall has the smell of cold stone and the intimate acoustics of a great cathedral.” – what powerful poetry you have wrought!
I have spent the last years buried in books about the Vikings and the ancient times of Briton. A time when both the power of religion and the dangers of everyday seemed more mated together. I discovered an historical novelist, Cecilia Holland, who wrote a breathtaking book entitled “Until the Sun Falls,” about a family of Mongols, descendants of Ghengis Khan, who are charged with further opening up the western borders.
While there is battle, eventually with Russian knights in their snow laden castles, the theme of the story is connection between father and son, brothers, and wives and husband. The dialogue is Hemingway-esque in its powerful simplicity. If you have not already come across this book, I would like to recommend it to you.
Thank you for an inspiring morning read.
– Ryan Hollander
Hi Ryan, Thanks for this. I’m definitely going to order “Until the Sun Falls.”
i was spellbound by your imaginings encompassing so many ancient realities. and yes, we would not know certain essence truths without encountering the harshness, even cruelty of nature first hand. modern conveniences have made us soft. but we can still dream.
Hi Tracy. You wrote:
What I read in it was a powerful wish for transformation. What I read was that art can be a means to enter the “Great Aloneness” and know what is hidden to others. Such people and such works are clues to me that we can be seekers–and maybe even shamans and fierce warriors of awareness–still.
Reminds me of Ouspensky’s remark at the beginning of ISM.
“I already knew then as an undoubted fact that beyond the thin film of false reality there existed another reality from which, for some reason, something separated us. The “miraculous” was a penetration into this unknown reality.” P.D. Ouspensky
How many are capable of the miraculous?
How many wish for transformation? How many try in their own way? Art–and also writing–can be a way.
I agree. my only point is that IMO we overestimate what we are so underestimate the power of resistance. Fantasy replaces reality denying the potential for transformation. If Thoreau is right, not every thing is as easy as many New Agers would want us to believe.
“The millions are awake enough for physical labor; but only one in a million is awake enough for effective intellectual exertion, only one in a hundred millions to a poetic or divine life. To be awake is to be alive. I have never yet met a man who was quite awake. How could I have looked him in the face?”
– Thoreau, Walden
Tracy, very nicely crafted. I would like to respond but methinks it is better to let it resonate on its own…much like Spell…and see where it leads me.
Peace, old friend.
I agree with Scott. I’m letting it soak into the cells of my soul. Happy MLK Day – Ron.
Thank you, old friend. Enjoy the snow, T
Beelzebub’s Tales to His Grandson, G.I. Gurdjieff: We have already spoken enough about the meaning of being ‘born.’ This relates to the beginning of a new growth of essence, the beginning of the formation of individuality, the beginning of the appearance of one indivisible I.
“But in order to be able to attain this or at least begin to attain it, a man must die, that is, he must free himself from a thousand petty attachments and identifications which hold him in the position in which he is. He is attached to everything in his life, ——-attached to his imagination—–, attached to his stupidity, attached even to his sufferings, possibly to his sufferings more than to anything else. He must free himself from this attachment. Attachment to things, identification with things, keep alive a thousand useless I’s in a man. These I’s must die in order that the big I may be born. But how can they be made to die? They do not want to die. It is at this point that the possibility of awakening comes to the rescue. To awaken means to realize one’s nothingness, that is to realize one’s complete and absolute mechanicalness and one’s complete and absolute helplessness. And it is not sufficient to realize it philosophically in words. It is necessary to realize it in clear, simple, and concrete facts, in one’s own facts. When a man begins to know himself a little he will see in himself many things that are bound to horrify him. So long as a man is not horrified at himself he knows nothing about himself. A man has seen in himself something that horrifies him. He decides to throw it off, stop it, put an end to it. But however many efforts he makes, he feels that he cannot do this, that everything remains as it was. Here he will see his impotence, his helplessness, and his nothingness; or again, when he begins to know himself a man sees that he has nothing that is his own, that is, that all that he has regarded as his own, his views, thoughts, convictions, tastes, habits, even faults and vices, all these are not his own, but have been either formed through imitation or borrowed from somewhere ready-made. In feeling this a man may feel his nothingness. And in feeling his nothingness a man should see himself as he really is, not for a second, not for a moment, but constantly, never forgetting it.
“This continual consciousness of his nothingness and of his helplessness will eventually give a man the courage to ‘die,’ that is, to die, not merely mentally or in his consciousness, but to die in fact and to renounce actually and forever those aspects of himself which are either unnecessary from the point of view of his inner growth or which hinder it. These aspects are first of all his ‘false I,’ and then all the fantastic ideas about his ‘individuality,’ ‘will,’ ‘consciousness,’ ‘capacity to do,’ his powers, initiative, determination, and so on.
I’ve had to finally come to accept that people as a whole cannot be open to this idea. I admit to underestimating Gurdjieff’s remark to Ouspensky about becoming disappointed.
There are so many New Age methods for following ones bliss that only a few will truly become disappointed and be willing to surrender cherished fantasies.
How does the fierce warrior come to accept their nothingness especially when there is an armada of books on the market suggesting how great everyone is?
“We can only know one thing about God – that he is what we are not. Our wretchedness alone is an image of this. The more we contemplate it, the more we contemplate him.” Simone Weil
It is obvious how offensive this is to the “I am God” paths. Yet if there is anything to the Socratic axiom “know thyself,” it would be experienced. Who would want it?
That is why I believe that in the great majority of cases the fierce warrior ends up fighting windmills and Oprah makes money.
Hi Nick. Being a real warrior means accepting our nothingness, knowing the situation is hopeless, yet riding out to do battle….because “Know Thyself” means giving it all, not holding back.
Well there is hope and there is hope. What may be hopeless in normal secular standards that define hope in relation to something else, then it could be hopeless.
However, what about hope as a potential inner quality?
Jacob Needleman:”Hope is a state of the mind, not of the world… Hope, in this deep andpowerful sense, is not the same as joy that things are going well, or willingness to invest in enterprises that are obviously heading for…success, but rather an ability to work for something because it is good, not just because it stands a chance to succeed.”
From this perspective it is a quality of hope that normally exists within us as a potential but can develop as an inner quality.
Can the fierce warrior surf the Ninth Wave without having developed hope as an inner quality? I know you know that the Ninth Wave is the barrier between man on earth his transcendent possibilites. Normally we and all our attachments, fears, and fantasies are swept back into creation. Yet perhaps a person free of these limitations could surf the great Wave to become part of what is beyond it?
When I was researching the Ninth Wave I read of it as related to Heimdall who seems to have a Nordic origin. The Ram having nine mothers seems very significant and is worth researching later on. It is too vague for me to build on.
Dumézil cites Welsh folklore sources which tell how ocean waves come in sets of nine with the ninth one being the ram:
We understand that whatever his mythical value and functions were, the scene of his birth made him, in the sea’s white frothing, the ram produced by the ninth wave. If this is the case, then it is correct to say that he has nine mothers, since one alone does not suffice, nor two, nor three.
A lot of hidden knowledge within the Ninth Wave.
Thanks, Nick. Very interesting stuff.