I’ve been working my way through a twenty-seven night runic initiation. The first nine nights consisted of working through Freyja’s aett (Fehu, Uruz, Thurisaz, Ansuz, Raidho, Kenaz, Gebo, Wunjo), but I have now begun working with Heimdall’s aett (Hagalaz, Nauthiz, Isa, Jera, Eihwaz, Perdhro, Algiz, Sowilo). Some would consider nine nights working with those particular runes to be a weighty–possibly even a profoundly negative–exercise. However, I am finding a peace within Heimdall’s runes that I never might have expected.
My ultimate guideline for the study of each rune has been stanza 143 of the Havamal (literally: “Sayings of the High One”; the sayings of Odin, Codex Regius, 13th century):
Do you know how to carve them?
Do you know how to use them to advise?
Do you know how to paint them?
Do you know how to prove them?
Do you know how to pray them?
Do you know how to blot them?
Do you know how to send them?
Do you know how to destroy them?
And within those first four runes of Heimdall’s aett, I have found a “recipe”, if you will, for getting through the more stressful times in life:
Rune of destruction and controlled chaos; of testing and trial which lead to harmony.
Advises against catastrophe, stagnation, suffering, and pain.
Proven by accepting those things which are beyond one’s control.
Sent forth as harmony in the face of opposition
Rune of resistance leading to strength; of delays and restrictions; of endurance, survival, determination, self-reliance, and the will to overcome.
Advises against deprivation, imprisonment, and distress.
Proven by standing fast in the face of trials and via innovation born of strength of will.
Sent forth as strength and compassionate endurance.
Rune of challenges and frustrations; of standstills and times for introspection and/or turning inward; of holding fast.
Advises against treachery, illusion, deceit, and betrayal.
Proven by standing still and seeking clarity.
Prayed: Be Still.
Sent forth as stillness and the ability to hold fast.
Rune of reaped rewards and fruitful seasons; of peace and happiness; of cycles and of change; of hopes, expectations, and successes earned.
Advises against bad timing, conflict, and reversals of fortune.
Proven by hoping and dreaming; by accepting and understanding the cycles of life in the Universe; by working hard to manifest one’s dreams.
Sent forth as peace and good seasons.
When faced with the stresses of life, it is all too easy to get caught up in them; to cling needlessly to the suffering and pain that they cause (Hagalaz). However, if we follow the example inherent in the runes Nauthiz and Isa, we may learn to turn tragedy into triumph by quieting our minds and hearts, and, as we endure, using the force of our will to fuel innovation. Jera promises that if we do this–accept and understand the cycles of the Universe–we will be gifted with reaped rewards and fruitful seasons.
Last night, as I sang the galdr for Heimdall’s aett, I was gifted with the bind-rune, depicted in the upper left of the image above, as well as the accompanying galdr and prayer. For those among our audience who are not working from a Norse base, I have also included Christian and Celtic-based cognates for the prayer. I hope it will help others have a little less-Monday Monday.
Sigyn, show me how to Overcome;
Gerdha, Grant Peace and Good Seasons,
That Skadi may show me how to Be Still.
Rhiannon, show me how to Overcome;
Taillte, Grant Peace and Good Seasons,
That the Cailleach may show me now to Be Still.
Archangel Gabriel, Help;
Mother Mary, show me how to Overcome;
Saint Ruth, Grant Peace and Good Seasons,
That Saint Elizabeth may show me how to Be Still.
Today is supposed to be the last day of my sabbatical. Usually sabbaticals are restful; then again, usually they’re also a paid period of leave. For me, neither of these has really been the case. Sure, I’ve earned a lot of things that money simply cannot buy–a certain sort of peace that I did not have before–but I’ve also worked myself to the point of abject exhaustion on more than one occasion, and the work on the new house (especially my office/studio) seems to be neverending (which is now stressing out the cat, in addition to me!). So instead of this being the last day of my sabbatical, I’ve decided it’s the first day of a new sort of life: a hyggelig life.
Hygge, and by extension, its adjective form, hyggelig, is a Danish/Norwegian concept that has become more than a bit of a fad here in the U.S. over the past year. Pronounced hoo-gah, I first stumbled upon the term when researching decorative motifs for our new home. I wanted a definite coastal vibe (in homage to Njordr, and also so that our house would feel like a permanent vacation-home), but with heavy Scandinavian motifs (so that our whole house would represent our Heathen/Pagan Faith), and a comfy, cozy Mid-Century Modern ease-of-living. When you Google Search all of that, you’ll likely be surprised how often the word hygge comes up. I certainly was, to the degree of thinking “where has this been all my life?“.
Like the word love, hygge has that rare distinction of being at the same time both a noun and an adjective. Also like love, it is a feeling. I’ve heard it argued by some that “if you treat hygge like it’s a verb, you’re doing it wrong”, but honestly, I think it has that in common with the concept of love, too: hygge really isn’t hygge until you can give it away; until you can share it with someone else who is dear to you.
So what in the hoo-hah is hygge? It is a consciousness–a mindfulness, if you will–of being fully present in a moment of coziness, specialness, and that indescribable feeling that is home. In its most basic form, hygge is homecoming. I don’t mean that in the sense of you’ve actually just come back home from having been somewhere else; I mean that warm, fuzzy feeling you get when you finally arrive at a place or a moment where you deeply know this is where you belong. You may get that feeling sitting in candlelight drinking a warm cup of tea, or you may get that feeling relaxing on the couch papercrafting. The most important thing is that you build it into your life somewhere. We could all use some hygge now and then….
An interesting thing about hygge: etymologically, it traces back to the term hugr. Sound familiar? You may remember it as one of the four aspects of the Norse “soul”, which I talked about previously in this blog post. 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”. In a very real sense, hygge is food for the soul. I made a conscious decision a long time ago that that is my business in life: the feeding of people’s souls. But how to do that?
Since we changed the angle of this business to papercrafting and digital art a year ago, it has been no secret that I have often felt very at-sea over exactly how to keep us rolling in that direction, while still remaining passionate about both my business and my life. When we made that change back in July 2016, our initial tagline was Remember To Whimsy. What I didn’t know then, but have discovered over the course of this sabbatical, is that what we really meant was Infuse Your Life With Hygge. Ultimately, that is what every product we design, every blog post we write, and every interaction we have in this business–whether creating votive art, or sharing our spirituality with others–has been designed to do. We want to remind people to live in their most precious moments–those moments of homecoming–and be mindful of the warmth and joy they feel there. We’ve never just wanted to sell people things; we want to give people feelings, that they can come back to again and again.
Most folks are familiar with the old saying “give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish, and you can feed him for a lifetime.” I can give you a nifty set of digital papers and elements, and keep you busy for a few hours on a Saturday afternoon, but if I can teach you to be mindful of your most treasured moments in the first place, and maybe couple that with a recipe here and there for something yummy to imbibe while you’re crafting, plus ideas for your home that make it a more enjoyable place to craft in, then I can help you find hygge for a lifetime!
Which is why I say today is not the end of my sabbatical, but instead the beginning of a new, hyggelig life. It’s a life I intend to share with all of you, and hopefully spread the hygge as liberally as butter (or in my case, cheese!) on bread. But before I can help you learn to infuse your lives with hygge, I’ve got to start the process of infusing my own. That starts with the “unplugged mornings” that I promised myself when we first moved in; mornings which I was doing a great job with for the first week we lived in our new house. After that first week, however, I fell sick, so I’ve been sleeping in most days. On top of that, I have a rather unrealistic gaming schedule that keeps me up til 1am four nights a week–which doesn’t exactly promote getting out of bed before 9am! Sleeping late means that by the time I finally do crawl out of bed, I’m in an urgent rush to hop online and let my Beloved know that I’m okay, which then leads to being locked online til noon. So my real day doesn’t start until 1:30 in the afternoon! On most days, that means I have around three hours to get everything I want to get accomplished in a day actually done, which isn’t nearly enough time to do those things without feeling like a long-tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs! Needless to say (I hope), that leaves very little room for hygge.
So I would like to invite all of you to join me for unplugged mornings. If that means you have to get out of bed a bit earlier than you normally would, by all means, do so: it’s worth the sacrifice. Wake up, stretch, make yourself a cup of hot tea (or coffee, if that’s more your style), and then just sit and drink. Most importantly, remember to enjoy that moment. Bask in it. Depending on your work schedule and everything else, it may be one of the few such moments you get all day, but it gives you a touchstone moment that you can come back to again and again throughout the day, when things get nuts. Leave that cell phone on the counter; leave that computer in the other room; don’t turn on the TV. There will be plenty of time for those things later. For the length of that cuppa, just be present in the sweetness of that moment; just be you and the tea (or coffee, as the case may be). This may seem like a trivial change in your schedule at face value, but like that famous quote from the movie The Crow, nothing is trivial…..
As some of you already know, I am in the midst of a process of simplifying my life. I figure: a sabbatical is an excellent time to take stock of where you’ve been, as well as where you hope to go, and get to the marrow of what you really want out of life. As part of this process, one thing has become abundantly clear: I am a very complex human being. Truth is, most of us are. And complexity can, in many ways, be a very good thing, but not when it puts you in bondage; not when you become aslave to your own complexity. I’ve discovered, undergoing this process, that this is most definitely the case for me. It might be the case for some of you as well, hence: this blog post.
I’m not going to sit here and tell you that I’ve got this all figured out, because lying to your audience is never a positive or good thing to do. I don’t have this all figured out yet, but what I can tell you is my process, so perhaps you can use it in your own lives, so that maybe we can all figure this out together.
It’s not exactly a state secret that when I want to figure something out, I often turn to the writings of Bruce Lee. Master Lee spent most of the later years of his life writing about how to break free of the “classical mess”, as he called it. Granted, at first blush, he was talking about martial arts forms when he coined that term–classical mess–but the truth is, (and he certainly realized this himself): any complexity which enslaves us is classical mess. His daughter, Shannon Lee, has begun a podcast which addresses many of the real-life (non-combat) applications of her father’s philosophy, so as I began my process of simplifying life, I naturally turned to that resource. I spent my morning yesterday listening to one of her podcasts from back in June, on Hacking Away the Unessentials. Over the course of this podcast, she mentions the books by Celebrity Organizer (yes, that’s a thing) Marie Kondo. In those books, Marie Kondo introduces the Kon Mari Method: a method of home (and life) organization based on a seemingly very simple question: does this spark joy?
I say that question only seems simple because what if you have forgotten what sparking joy feels like? For that matter, what is your personal definition of joy? Not having the answers to these questions readily available, in my opinion, is a definite clue that you have become a slave to your own complexity. I very quickly realized I only peripherally had the answers to these questions myself.
So let’s start with a textbook definition of sparking joy, and work our way up from there:
sparking: setting something off with sudden force; igniting; setting off with a burst of activity; stirring to activity
joy: an emotion of well-being, success, or good fortune; a state of happiness or bliss; a source or cause of delight
sparking joy: setting off feelings of well-being, success, good fortune, happiness and bliss with sudden force; igniting a state of happiness or bliss; setting off a burst of active happiness, well-being, success, good fortune, or bliss; stirring one to actively be well, successful, fortunate, happy, or blissful.
So, sparking joyis first and foremost active. It’s not so much a simple matter of “well this makes me happy”, or “this is pleasing”, as it is a sensation of not only being happy, but actually wanting to do something withthat happiness; that joy. Applying this to home organization: my stacks and stacks of books make me happy. Is that enough to warrant keeping all of them? Well, frankly, no, it isn’t. My stacks and stacks of books also make me want to do something about that happiness: they make me want to read and re-read them, and possibly share tidbits of that joy of reading with others. That is enough to warrant keeping all of them. Now let’s take that same principle and apply it to a life situation: namely, my job; this business. It makes me happy to sit for hours and make graphics, whether for papercrafting supplies or votive art. Is that reason enough to keep doing that? Well, again, frankly, no it isn’t. Making graphics for hours also makes me want to do something about that happiness: it makes me want to share that happiness by making those things available to simplify the lives of others. That is enough to warrant continuing to do that part of my job. Make sense so far?
The marrow of what we really want out of life is that feeling of sparking joy. That’s why we constantly buy more and more things; that’s why we get ourselves into these messes where we eventually become slaves to our own complexity in the first place. We crave joy. When we can’t find it inside ourselves anymore, we look outside, and when we start looking outside, we amass mountains of things which give us momentary happiness, but then wind up in piles and in boxes and cluttering our lives. We also wind up cluttering our lives with unessential activities that actually prevent us, in the long run, from discovering and experiencing real joy.
Since the experience of real joy is too often a completely alien concept for most of us, rather than starting with a list of what actually sparks joy, we should probably begin with a list of what doesn’t. I will give you my own list, by way of example, so that hopefully you can make one of your own:
Constantly worrying about being financially solvent.
Having to continually put things like housework and homemaking on a back burner because of that first thing on this list.
Feeling like I’m making my art “under the gun” because of the first thing on this list.
Never having time to do fun things (like play video games or craft or read or simply watch TV), once again because of the first thing on this list.
Feeling like I can rarely express my true opinions on things because of the misconceptions they will breed in other people.
Often feeling more like another dependent in the household, rather than like the “man of the house” (also heavily tied to the first thing on this list).
From that list, hopefully you can begin to see what things actually bring you real joy. Again, by way of example, those things that bring me real joy, based out of the above list, would include:
Housework (I’m not kidding!)
Making art/being creative
Playing with our cat
Research (yes, I actually enjoy that)
Composing editorials (yes, I actually enjoy that, too)
Being the “man of the house”: being the one she can lean on, when she needs to lean on someone; being responsible for things so she has to take less responsibility and, therefore, has less stress; being dependable, instead of constantly depending.
This is the point where we can apply the aforementioned Kon Mari Method, and begin to simplify our livesby getting rid of the “classical mess”: we declutter by removing complexity. How can you get rid of the things on your first list (the list of things which patently do not spark joy), so that you can spend more time on the things in your second list (the things which dospark joy)? The most obvious answer might be to simply curl that first list up in a neat little ball and toss it in the trash, but perhaps you have things on it (as I do) which facilitate the things in your second list (such as financial solvency)? You wouldn’t get very far with list number two if you “throw the baby out with the bathwater”, now, would you? Once again, let’s use me as an example. Your final list may look something like this:
Be actively grateful for every penny you make, and use it wisely. Replace stress with thanks.
Activate unplugged mornings: get out of bed, make tea (because coffee hates me!), read for 15-20 minutes, and then check in with my Beloved to see if there is anything she needs me to immediately address in the house, and then address the house (housework/homemaking)
Afternoon Pomodoro: Spend only one hour per day on writing, art, etc. that is directly business-related.
Live. Make time for friends and family. Make time for play (including crafting, video games, TV/movies, birding, and Kili-cat).
Prove dependability over dependency.
Cook more often.
Realize that schedules were made to be broken.
Realize that lists are simply words on paper, not chains we forge. Don’t let them become that ever again!
As you are formulating these lists, you may find (as I did) that much of the complexity in your life is born out of clinging to habits (some of which may actually seem like very good and positive habits!). That’s a whole other issue, bound up with things like conditioning, both outward and inward, which I will address in my next blog post (I hope!).