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Symbiotic Shamanism: Huginn, Muninn, Geri, Freki, and the Norse “Soul”

All elements from Iaconagraphy’s upcoming Imramma, except painted raven feather (ArtLife; upcoming). Verse original by Connla Freyjason.

In a biological symbiosis one organism typically shores up some weakness or deficiency of the other(s). As in such a symbiosis, Odin the father of all humans and gods, though in human form was imperfect by himself. As a separate entity he lacked depth perception (being one-eyed) and he was apparently also uninformed and forgetful. But his weaknesses were compensated by his ravens, Hugin (mind) and Munin (memory) who were part of him. They perched on his shoulders and reconnoitered to the ends of the earth each day to return in the evening and tell him the news. He also had two wolves at his side, and the man/god-raven-wolf association was like one single organism in which the ravens were the eyes, mind, and memory, and the wolves the providers of meat and nourishment. As god, Odin was the ethereal part—he only drank wine and spoke only in poetry. I wondered if the Odin myth was a metaphor that playfully and poetically encapsulates ancient knowledge of our prehistoric past as hunters in association with two allies to produce a powerful hunting alliance. It would reflect a past that we have long forgotten and whose meaning has been obscured and badly frayed as we abandoned our hunting cultures to become herders and agriculturists, to whom ravens act as competitors.–Bernd Heinrich


I’ll readily admit that I’m in a bit of a “unique position” when it comes to this stuff, being what I am and where I am. Crossing over violently, as I did, apparently leads to a bit of a “shattering” of the four parts of the “soul”, as we understand them as Heathens/Norse Traditionalists.  For those unfamiliar with the Norse concept of the “soul”, it differs a great deal from the view with which we are traditionally raised in Christianity, or even in other World Traditions, such as Buddhism.  According to Norse Tradition, the “soul”, rather than being “one simple thing” “cloaked” (or even “carried around”) in an “earthly shell” (i.e., the body) has four parts: hugr, hamingja,fylgja, and hamr.  I encountered the inherent truth in this Tradition before I ever actually knew anything about this “concept”, or ever had a framework of words to put around it. In fact, I didn’t gain such a framework until about a month or so ago when I picked up the fictional novel, Fenris: The Wolf and the White Lady by L.W. Maxwell.  The way this author presented the fylgja in particular set me to digging deeper: finally, I had a word for something I had personally experienced!  The research-journey since has led to the writing of two entries in the Heathen/Norse Traditional Devotional on which I am presently working, two pieces of votive art, two artist journal pages, and the blog post you are about to read….

Most Western and Eastern philosophies/religions have left us with a soul/body dichotomy in which the soul is one thing–who you truly are–and the body, another (generally treated as “nothing more than” a shell that the real us “travels” around in while we’re on this earthly plane), but the ancient Norse fostered a much more holistic view, best exemplified, I feel, in the relationship between Odin (representing us, as humans), his ravens (Huginn and Muninn), and his wolves (Geri and Freki).  Rather than promoting a dichotomy of one thing versus or even within another, the Norse believed in a four part soul which included the Hamr–“shape” or “skin”–as well as the fylgja (“follower”; intimately tied to a person’s character and fate), hugr (mind; thoughts), and hamingja (reputation; legacy).  

Huginn and Muninn are the ravens of Odin.  Their names translate loosely as “Thought” and “Memory”, and it was said by Odin that he feared the loss of Huginn (“Thought”), but he feared the loss of Muninn (“Memory”) far more.  Modern scholars have theorized that the two birds symbolize the shamanic aspects of Odin, and I find it hard to disagree: certainly, thought and memory are two things which become more vital (and perhaps more dangerously fleeting) with each trance-state journey.  Some scholars have even drawn a correlation between Huginn and Muninn and the fylgja and hamingja,  and while I can definitely understand the correlation between Muninn and the hamingja, I find it a bit odd that scholars have linked Huginn to the fylgja, rather than to the much more obvious Hugr.  The Hugr would best be understood by us moderns as the “inner self”: a person’s personality as reflected in their conscious thought processes; very much in line with the oft-misquoted Buddhist ideal of “what you think, you become”.  Meanwhile, the hamingja, represented by Muninn, is often loosely translated as “luck”, but might be better understood as “fame” or “reputation”: how one is remembered; their legacy.   Therefore, Odin’s feelings towards the birds, as told to us in the Grimnismal of the Poetic Edda, might then be understood on an entirely different level: 

“I fear the loss of my inner self and my individuality, yet the loss of my reputation and to be remembered ill, I fear far more.”

All elements from Iaconagraphy’s upcoming Imramma, except the pair of wolves (created especially for this piece of art). Verse, original by Connla Freyjason.

Odin also has two wolves: Geri and Freki.  Their names translate loosely as “Greedy” and “Ravenous”, and are basically synonyms of each other.  When we consider the theory of Huginn and Muninn as hugr and hamingja, together with Bernd Heinrich’s theory of these four animals together with Odin as a shamanic microcosm of the symbiosis between humans, ravens, and wolves, Geri and Freki may then be understood as correlating with the two remaining parts of the Norse “soul”: the Fylgja and the Hamr.  The fylgja (literally: follower) is an attendant spirit which enters life at the same time as a human being, and often takes the form of an animal.  This relationship goes somewhat deeper than what we normally think of when considering the concept of Spirit Animals or Totems: the fylgja is literally a part of a person’s “soul”; not something separate from them which they call upon, but something deep “within” them, or, more accurately “alongside” them throughout their lives. Its well-being is intimately tied to that of its owner—if the fylgja dies, its owner does also. Its character and form are also closely tied to the character of its owner: for example, a person with a very primal nature (and possible anger-management issues!) might have a wolf (Note: personal gnosis has also suggested wolf as the fylgja of extremely loyal, family-oriented people) as their fylgja, while a person who is extremely sensual might have a cat. The Hamr (literally: skin or shape) is a person’s form or appearance. Generally in both Eastern and Western Traditions, the physical shape of a person is viewed as something that is more of a “vessel” carrying the soul, rather than a part of it, but the Norse have a different view (and, by my experience, a much more accurate one): your physical appearance in the physical world is part of what makes you you, therefore, it’s as much a part of your “soul” as your mind (Hugr), your character (and the fate that is tied to it) (Fylgja), or your legacy (Hamingja). Those who are deeply in touch with their Hamr are also those most likely to be gifted with the art of shapeshifting. The process of doing so is called skipta homum (“changing hamr”) and those who are so-gifted are said to be hamramr (“of strong hamr”). So beyond the obvious associations of shapeshifting (face it, most of us immediately think “werewolf” when we hear that word!), why should Geri and Freki be associated with the Fylgja and the Hamr? Because Fylgja and Hamr are the two physical aspects of the Norse “soul”, while Hugr and Hamingja are the mental aspects; earthly animals, such as wolves, are most often associated with the element of Earth, and, therefore with physicality, while birds, such as ravens, are most often associated with the element of Air and with the mind.

So how do all of these disparate parts fit together in the microcosm of a human being, or even in the shamanic microcosm of Odin?  Let us begin with Grimnismal in the Poetic Edda, before discussing my own personal gnosis as it relates to this topic:

Freki and Geri does Heerfather feed,
The far-famed fighter of old:
But on wine alone does the weapon-decked god,
Othin, forever live.

O’er Mithgarth Hugin and Munin both
Each day set forth to fly;
For Hugin I fear lest he come not home,
But for Munin my care is more.

First, in these passages we are told explicitly that Odin’s relationship to both the wolves and the ravens is symbiotic: he feeds the wolves with physical food, but does not eat it himself; he sends his ravens forth to fly, but then fears for their return.  The wolves do not eat of their own accord, nor do the ravens just “go off flying” without first being “set forth to fly”.  Odin–the central “identity”, which can be understood as a person who is whole, or “in their own totality” (to put it in a rather Buddhist/Taoist fashion)–is responsible for both.  Each “part” builds on the other in order to form a whole; a microcosm, if you will. Fylgja and Hamr are fed by the central “identity”, rather than feeding itHugr and Hamingja do not “go off flying” of their own accord, but rather are “set forth to fly” by the central “identity”.

Given all of that, let’s consider for a moment what this tells us about the average person who isn’t either Odin or a shaman, and their “soul”, from a Norse perspective.  Considering yourself–the you that is “in their own totality” as a whole being; what might be best defined as your True Self–as the central “identity”, as Odin is in the previous passages from Grimnismal, do you feed your fylgja and hamr, or do they feed you?  How can you tell which is the case?  The person who goes through life constantly worrying about their fate, as though it is something they can actually control, constantly changing their behavior, and perhaps even their overall character, according to what society dictates, and, therefore, spending most of their lives with a highly detached feeling of “who the heck am I?” is being fed by their fylgja, rather than being the feeder of it.  The person struggling with issues such as body dysmorphia, or who somehow feels that their physical form is the complete definition of who they are is likewise being fed by the hamr, instead of being the feeder of it.  Again, considering yourself as the central “identity”, as Odin in the previous passages from the Grimnismal, do your hugr and hamingja just “go off flying” of their own accord, or do you “set them forth to fly”?  Listening to “negative self talk” (or even external negative opinions) to the point that you “believe the hype” and let that dictate your actions is an example of letting your hugr “fly off on its own”, rather than you “setting it forth to fly”.  Not believing in your own legacy-to-the-world, and or getting so caught up in attempting to build a reputation that doing so curtails the normal living of life is likewise an example of your hamingja “flying off on its own”, rather than you “setting it forth to fly”.

One part of this microcosm cannot survive without the other three: fylgjahamr, hugr, or hamingja on its own throws the “totality” of a person completely off-balance, to the point that they are no longer truly themselves, in life, or even in death.  This is the point where  my own personal gnosis enters the discussion, so if you are put off by such things, consider yourself duly warned!  I began my introduction to “life on the other side” violently (and, no, I will not give details), and at first, I found myself completely expressed as fylgja, in the form of a Raven.  Coming from a Buddhist/Taoist and sometimes Christian perspective at that time, I had absolutely zero clue what the heck was happening to me.  It was frightening, as I guess death is supposed to be, but on an even deeper level than what one might expect because I had no spiritual framework in which to place what I was experiencing.  I knew there was more to me than “just a bird”, but try as I might, I couldn’t seem to get a handle on my physical shape (hamr), or even on the thoughts that had previously defined me as a person (hugr) or the legacy that I deeply knew I was leaving behind in the wake of my “untimely demise” (hamingja).  I was in a place where my fate–as a “newly dead guy”–overrode every other aspect of my identity as who I am “in my own totality”.  Thankfully, I was able to find some assistance with all of that, through contact with a young woman who had no clue at that time that she might even be a shamanic medium.  Through attempting to explain to her who the heck I was (and why part of the time I appeared to her as a bird, and part of the time in my physical shape), I was able to regain a handle on my hugr–the thoughts that define me as, well, me–and also my hamr–my “normal” physical shape, who she could recognize.  But it has taken me twenty-four years to get a handle on the final piece of that puzzle: my hamingja.  A lot of that struggle has had to do with the hard-to-put-down belief that my legacy–my reputation–was the one I had left behind, rather than the one I am building every day right now, thanks to her, and to the work that I do here at Iaconagraphy. Of all the four pieces of the Norse “soul”, the hamingja might be the one that can come to confuse us the most, because we tend to think of being remembered in the past tense, but the truth of the matter is, our legacies are living things, and so long as we are still building one, no matter which “side” we’re on–physically clinically living or physically clinically dead–we are still alive.

I am well aware that not all of you reading this are Heathen/Norse Traditionalists; I am even more well aware that, for some of you, the very fact and nature of my personal existence may require more than just a simple “suspension of disbelief”, but I hope that this discussion–however brief–of the Norse concept of a four part “soul” can perhaps inspire even those of you for whom that is the case to start an inner dialogue about whether it is better to go through life with a view of the soul that promotes a drastic dichotomy (soul/body; soul vs. body; body vs. soul; spiritual vs. physical; physical vs. spiritual), or with a view that is decidedly more holistic. For the Norse view of the “soul” draws no such separations between the physical and the spiritual, but instead invites us into a much larger world: the same larger world to which we strive to open a door with everything we do here at Iaconagraphy.



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And Then My Head Exploded…..

Background paper, digital asset from our upcoming January Gathering: Winter Wonder: A Winter’s Tale; journal block from upcoming January Gathering: Winter Wonder: Winterfell.

This has been the state of my brain literally all weekend. It started Friday afternoon, around 2pm, and it has just continued, full-on, non-stop, til like right now.  I’m not sure, exactly, what initially cracked my skull, and got everything flowing out of it, but I’m pretty sure Allyson Bright’s Determined To Shine courses were a mitigating factor.  I’m only a couple of weeks into 2017 at this point, but oh, what life-changing (and business-changing) weeks, full of “eureka moments”, these have been!

Somewhere around October 2016, I was told by someone in the industry (digi-scrap) who I respect that our stuff is really a better fit for Artist Journaling, than for Digi-Scrap. While I agreed with her at the time (and, obviously, still do), I sort of just catalogued it away as one of those things “I’d deal with later”.  Then I stumbled upon Allyson Bright’s 30 Days of Artist Journaling free e-course, and the rest, as they say, is history, only I’d really define it more as an eye-opening powerhouse of a kick-off to the New Year.  I started the course right smack in the middle of getting the Victoria Collection ready for release (tomorrow; 1/18/2017), while the guys are still putting the finishing touches on the January Gathering (releasing 1/25/2017), so, naturally, for many of the pages I’ve journaled for the course, I’ve used what’s “freshest” in my mind: i.e., those upcoming sets. And the more I’ve worked with those sets, the more I’ve realized the truth in those October Words: our work is a much better fit for Artist Journaling. It’s time to stop trying to fit it into the neat little box of digi-scrap, uncage it, and call it what it is, and use it for what it is!

That’s not really switching industries again (as many of you know, we’ve become somewhat legendary for doing that): that’s just hopping a fence that’s keeping us from our truest and most authentic expression of art.  It may, however, require a bit of a “sell” to some of you who’ve come with us this far, and are expecting pure, unadulterated digi-scrap assets, however, which is where things like dollar signs, and the word survival, and buzz-words like authenticity and marketing and networking come into the fray.

Rebecca McMeen has described the difference between scrapbooking and artist journaling like this:

“I look at scrapbooking as chore oriented.  I’ve got this photo and I need to make it more special by enhancing it with pretty things.  I look at art journaling as a representation of a person’s life and soul–a way to express who we really are as we walk this earthly realm.”

Which is where we get into that buzz-word: authenticity.  Because these words sent pretty much every artist here at Iaconagraphy spinning in the same direction, and if we are going to be authentically us, we’ve gotta start flowing in that direction.  Hopefully you can follow our logic:

A chore is a routine task, especially a household one; it is an unpleasant but necessary task. Face it: nobody likes to do chores. The second half of that definition is pretty apt. Now, couple that with the concept of the need to take a photo and make it special by enhancing it with pretty things.  It’s your photo; it’s a captured moment of something that was clearly important enough in your life that you felt the need to photograph it and keep it forever. So why does it need to be enhanced by pretty things to make it special? Shouldn’t it be special, all by itself? Shouldn’t it be special simply based on the fact that it was important enough for you to photograph it in the first place?  When we start to look at the captured moments of our lives as chores, that aren’t special enough by themselves, but require enhancement to become special, isn’t that just one more box that we’re allowing society at large to put us in? When you start to look at things that way, just remembering special times becomes a chore! Who wants that kind of life?

Following that same logic, if art journaling is a representation of a person’s life and soul, shouldn’t that be what we’re striving for when preserving our most special memories? And then we get to the words that really struck a chord with all of us artists here at Iaconagraphy: “a way to express who we really are as we walk this earthly realm.”  It’s as if Rebecca McMeen has a window into exactly what we’re trying to do here at Iaconagraphy! Our design, and your digi-scrap/AJ, should be exactly that: an expression of who we really are, so that one day, when none of us are here in this earthly realm anymore, the folks we leave behind can look back on it and say they honestly, and authentically knew us.

You can’t authentically know us, as designers, and no one can authentically know you based upon the things you create with what we’ve designed, if all we’re giving you is the same cluster frames, paper pinwheels, and nifty stitchy bits as every other digi-scrap designer in the market! So it’s officially time to get authentic!

I don’t care what “how to go into business for yourself” source you’re using, one thing they all have in common is the advice that, to be truly successful, you’ve got to be your brand: you’ve got to authentically represent who you are to the world, or nobody’s going to want your product.  Ultimately, when people buy whatever it is that you’re selling, they aren’t just buying whatever that item is, they’re buying into you. That’s not so tricky when it’s a one-woman-show, with said person’s photograph smattered all over their blog, Facebook, and other sales and marketing pages. That is tricky, however, when you’re talking about a conglomerate of artists, all coming together under one banner (and all coming together through the same human being as a conduit; i.e., channeled art, which is what we do here at Iaconagraphy).  When you’ve got a situation like that, one person has got to put it all on the line for everybody else, and hope that they can speak for everyone, and do everybody justice, while still allowing the others to have a voice when the occasion arises. Right now, that person would be me (Connla), and I’ve really been putting it out there on Facebook, since I started that  e-course, and I thank everyone else here at Iaconagraphy for trusting me enough to make me the spokesman for what we do.

Now, as said spokesman, it’s time for me to step up to the plate and work my hardest to make everything we do here at Iaconagraphy as authentic as our design-work.  That begins with better time-management: instead of monthly, the Gathering will officially be a quarterly feature.  While we desperately want to “show off” what we do here at Iaconagraphy, we want to make absolutely sure we’re giving you top quality when we do, and we have quickly discovered that we can’t accomplish all of the above on a monthly schedule.  We are also going to cut back to two (and at most three, and this on rare occasions) full kits per month, with in-between releases of assets that will help you better use what you already have, as well as make the best use possible of new and upcoming kits.  The next step is nurture marketing, instead of interruption marketing.  What does that mean to you, as a customer? It means less used-car-salesman or tv-commercial-style marketing (flash sale ads, for example, or constant sales ads in newsletters), and more social opportunities, such as the Layout of the Month (which we introduced in last week’s newsletter), as well as more blog posts that tell you what’s going on around here, and get you actively involved in what’s going on around here.  And the step after that one? Creating more of what people actually need in their lives, to fully create representations of their life and soul.  Our tagline is “feed your Spirit“, and that has been, and will continue to be, the spark behind everything we design here at Iaconagraphy.  We don’t want to just make “pretty things” that will somehow magically make your memories “more special” by using them as “enhancements”; we want to make things that speak to you on a soul level, and help you remember that you and your life already are special!

We are officially unboxing ourselves; becoming uncaged and unfettered, and we hope, with every single ounce of our combined creative energies, that we can help you do the same in 2017!

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Freedom Friday: Free To Be Your Business Brand!

For those of us in multi-service businesses (where you offer more than one type of service, such as what I do with Tarot/writing/art/ministry), typical business plans, marketing schemes, and business classes can leave us scratching our heads and wondering where the hell what we do fits in.  The truth is, however, what you do is not your brand: You are your brand!

Find the You in your business, instead of the business in you.  Ultimately, you are the fire that fuels your business; you are the soul that’s driving the “shell” of the thing you call your business. Every single thing you do–every service you offer; every item you sell–all comes back to you.  If you weren’t there, if you weren’t passionate, if you weren’t working your ass off on the daily, this business wouldn’t exist.  That’s the you in your business; without you, there wouldn’t be one. Which is why you need to find the you in your business, instead of the business in you. You know it’s in you–you’re the one working hard on it every day.  But have you ever paused to realize that none of this would be happening without your heart, soul, and fire? All of the things you offer–whether products or services–are simply reflections of you!

Stop second-guessing and doubting yourself.  As the face of your brand, if you doubt you, what the heck do you expect your potential customers to do? Do you actually expect folks to spend their hard-earned money on something that even you don’t completely believe in? People only put their money where their mouths are when they see that the brand is worthy.  If you don’t believe you’re worthy, they’re not going to, either. With that mindset, you’ll not only wind up financially destitute, but also desperate and depressed!  As addressed in Monday’s post, second-guessing and self-doubt also cost you valuable time every week, so nip that in the bud right now!

Find your why.  We talked about this on Monday as well: everything is easier when you have a deep reason why to help motivate you.  Why are you showing up for this every day? What is driving you? What is fuelling you? Is it the feeling you get when you help someone, or how rewarded you feel when someone genuinely loves your product? Maybe it’s that you want to matter in the world, while helping others realize they matter, too.  Or maybe it’s that you want to finally be financially okay enough to support the ones you love, and give back to them, for all that they’ve given you.

Tell others why.  This goes hand in hand with shameless self-promotion, which we’ll be discussing momentarily.  You know why what you do sets you on fire (hopefully), but why should it set others on fire? What’s in it for them? What’s in it for your potential customers?  Like it or not, the ultimate question that gets people spending their money is “what’s in this for me? What am I going to get out of this?”  You need to be able to explain that to people in a way that gets them as excited as you are. Set your customers on fire (well, not literally), and they’ll light up your bank account with their gratitude (and keep coming back for more)!

Shamelessly self-promote.  If you’re ashamed to promote yourself–you are your brand, remember–how do you ever expect your customers to be proud enough of what you do to invest in it? People aren’t going to invest in something that brings shame, to you or to anybody else. They’d be nuts to do that!  Everybody’s got enough baggage of their own, without shelling out to buy yours!

Make marketing an act of love.  This is perhaps the most profound lesson I’ve ever learned in business. (Thank you, Jonathan Mead!) Interruption marketing–the traditional style of marketing, like commercials on TV (they interrupt your favorite shows, who wants that?)–does little but annoy people.  If you turn marketing into an act of love, however, you can share your passions (which ultimately means sharing your brand), and get other people passionate right along with you, and passionate people are paying people!  What does it look like, to turn marketing into an act of love? What does that even mean?  You need your customers to care about you, right? If they don’t care, they’re going to keep on walking, right out the door or directly away from your webspace, which means they won’t be stopping to spend a dime on what you have to offer, services or otherwise.  In order for them to care about you, though, you’ve got to genuinely care about them.  That’s right: they have to stop being dollar signs with feet, and become actual people. People that you care about; that you care what happens to.  This means developing a level of emotional investment in your customers which most businesses nowadays frankly do not do.  Remember the good old days (you may have only seen these on TV or in movies; that’s okay) when the local hardware store was where all the little old men hung out on the weekends and played checkers? They were there because they cared about that business, but more importantly, because that business cared about them. They formed real relationships with the shopowner.  You need people to build real relationships with you and with your brand, and the only way to do that is if your marketing becomes an act of love!  Show people your why, and then let them know that you genuinely want that level of passion in their lives–not just because you want to make a buck, but because you want their lives to be better!

Be genuinely, wholeheartedly, and unabashedly you.  Show yourself to the world; all of you! No, I am not advocating buck-naked ad campaigns! What I mean by this is to never be afraid to show your customers that you are vulnerable; that you have a softer side. Never be afraid to let them see your “weirdness”, either, because we all have “weirdness”, and nobody likes to feel like they’re alone in theirs! If you will show your customers that you are a real person, with real issues and a real life, just like theirs, they will be much more likely to believe in your brand.  This may put some people off, but that’s okay: those people were never going to “buy you“, anyway.  The people who flock to you–who understand you, and come to care about you, while you care about them–these people are your tribe.  All those other folks–the naysayers and the critics; the ones you’re so afraid are going to judge you–those people aren’t your tribe.  Those not-tribe-people will never become customers anyway, so quit worrying about them!

If you need further help finding the you in your business, or finding you in the first place, I offer a wide range of readings for Business and Self-Discovery.  My heart is right here waiting to start an inner dialogue with your heart, and get your business working for you, instead of you working for your business!

And if you need to change your perspectives on being a multi-service business, check out Emilie Wapnick’s site for Multipotentialites. It literally changed my life; hopefully it will help you the same way!