In the symbolism of our sacred World Tree, Yggdrasill, there are three roots, each fed by one of the Underworld Fountains. In the north there is the root sustained by Hvergelmir, where ice-cold waters provide the tree with the power to endure. In the south is the Well of Urd (Urdabrunnr), whose root is maintained by the Norns and kept transparent (i.e. invisible) by the warm liquids that give the tree strength. These roots represent polar opposites—hot and cold, light and darkness. Urd's realm is bright and beautiful, filled with life and verdure: the Elysian Fields of our faith. Hvergelmir is on the border of Niflheim, which is cold and dreary, lying on the mountain called Nidafjall that is perpetually shrouded in darkness.
In terms of morality, the two realms equal the chosen paths we mortals take. We will either choose life or death, order or chaos, benevolence or malevolence. We will embrace the warmth of life as seen in the realm of our beloved Goddesses of Fate, or we will choose cold-hearted cruelty and death, as seen before the kingdom of the damned. This is the never-ending struggle between Gods and Giants, between the ideals of Odin and Frigga and those of Loki and Gullveig. The Gods want us to drink from Urd's Well, to embrace the life-path and work together with them towards the universal order. But the path of Chaos, that of hedonism and self-destruction is all too seductive and calls far too many people into its fold.I typically do not like to quote outlander sources in the work that we do, but I feel that this is important here as it serves our point quite well.
This is a quote from the Tao Te Ching (76):
"Men are born soft and supple;
Dead, they are stiff and hard. Plants are born tender and pliant;
Dead they are brittle and dry.
"Thus whoever is stiff and inflexible Is a disciple of death.
Whoever is soft and yieldingIs a disciple of life.
"The hard and stiff will be broken. The soft and supple will prevail."
Besides reminding us of the hard, frozen ice of Niflheim, the realm of death, and the warm, pliant nature of Urdar Magn "Urd's Strength," this quote should also remind us of the story of Fenrir's binding. Two very hard iron-fetters, Læding and Drómi, each larger and stronger than the last, are placed on Fenrir's limbs, and each time he breaks them. As a child of Chaos, he shows that "the hard and stiff will be broken." They will be broken by their avarice, by their hate, and by their selfish desires. When the soft and silky smooth ribbon called Gleipnir is placed around the wolf, it 'prevails, and Fenrir is unable to escape until Ragnarok, when all fetters are lossened. In metallurgy the concept is the same, and is called ductility, which basically defines how strong a metal is. Cast Iron is a very hard metal, but it is also brittle and breaks easily. Steel is stronger because when it is bent it will stretch rather than break, hence it is more ductile. In nature it is not the strongest that survive, but the most adaptable: the ones willing to make the most changes and compromises.
In life, the hard are always broken. They either end up in prison or dead, or they turn themselves around and become a 'disciple of life.' Hardgrep noticed Hadding's unyielding, fierce warrior nature and sought to when his life with the plea: "Let this hateful stiffness yield, let a proper warmth inspire you, tie with me the bond of passion" (LXX.14).
Hadding then softened his heart and went on to become one of the greatest heroes of our lore. Those who will not can corrupt into blind hatred, bringing nothing but pain and misery and suffering with them, for then they become agents of Chaos and Death. Odur chose this path and the Gods turned him into a monster for it. Only Freyja's love could grant him any succor. It is never too late to become something better. But those who will only take and never give, who will take happiness or property or life without a second thought are nidings (criminals, the disgraced) no matter how they try to justify their actions. Those who serve the Gods must always oppose them. We will never allow them to cajole us into any of their destructive behaviors. Ours is not a path of weakness or pacifism, but of true strength and inner empowerment. We will not harm the innocent, nor will we ever be victims of the guilty. That is an important lesson within our warrior's creed.
So, we have seen the root of cold, of cruelty and misery, which brings enough pain and suffering into our lives so that we can endure whatever happens to us. In the same sense the root itself is constantly chewed on by the serpents of corruption in Niflhel. Hvergelmir therefore endures the greatest onslaught, giving Yggdrasill its power to survive through the ages. It is the power to make it through whatever happens, of "that which does not kill us only makes us stronger." Then there is the root and well of warmth and positive, life-bringing beauty. It is the path of joy, of family and unity (convergence). From it we too can gain Urdar Magn as Yggdrasill does. But there is also a third root, a third choice between the hot and the cold of Urdarbrunn and Hvergelmir. This is the choice of wisdom, the path of the Middle Root, of Mimisbrunn, which only a rare few can make.In the Hugrunar we are told that the path of the wise is the path of detachment. "Send out my choice, create, detach it from myself" (19), "Through several selves, through the tribe, uplift and detach" (25), "sustain, achieve, and yet release" (26), etc. It is the ability of the wise to go beyond suffering and beyond the Self to the level of detachment that allows one to realize true enlightenment. This is not a path for the masses, but those who can follow it have a responsibility to help others advance on their paths and become spiritual teachers (vitkis or valas).
To be sure, there is no belief in any sort of state of 'perfection' in Odinism, spiritual or otherwise. Those who can become wise simply follow a path that Fate or Wyrd has placed before them, and as such they must choose to follow it. They are not stoic or passive, they simply reach a state of heightened awareness that allows them to see beyond the cosmic play of good and evil. The Gods achieved this state long ago, and this is why they travel to Ragnarok with inner-peace in their hearts. They know that good will triumph as long as it lies within us humans. Odin teaches us to be wise, and tells us to always be joyful, but to reach that higher wisdom you must be able to step out of your own reality, as when he hung upon Yggdrasill. You must be able to cast away fear, negativity, ego, suffering, hate, anger, etc. and embrace only the divine power, as Odin has.
Odin hung on the World Tree for a drink of Mimir's pure mead of wisdom. He detached himself from suffering by embracing it and sacrificing himself to himself. The mead he drank feeds the middle root of Yggdrasill, and must be diluted with the meads of Urdabrunn and Hvergelmir when other beings (e.g. Heimdall, the dead, etc.) partake in it. The mead represents the pure force of creative wisdom, which developed out of the void of Ginnungagap, the power of neutral creativity: "Ginnungagap is eternal, void between fire and ice. It cares not for me nor not-for-me" (Hug. 1). In order for us to taste of these liquids, we must always walk the way of the wise. This means we must devote ourselves towards the pursuit of knowledge, towards meditation and self-reflection, and towards benefiting others with our good words, good thoughts, and good deeds. Rather than simply basking in the light of the holy divine, we become one with that light and shine it upon others in our everyday lives. We do so with our minds, our hearts, and our spirits; then reach out as a force for good in this world.
So, what does any of this have to do with death? Well, in walking the path of wisdom one must learn to transcend death and suffering, to embrace hardship, and still maintain joy, compassion, and peace in your heart, mind, and soul. Not an easy task, but it can be done. It is very likely that when Odin hung on Yggdrasill his sacrifice represented an actual death, where he traveled to the Underworld to receive Mimir's mead, thereby overcoming his endeavor and being reborn in wisdom. "Then I began to quicken, and to become wise, and to grow and to prosper; each word I sought resulted in a new word; each deed I sought resulted in a new deed" (TAE V.7).
Overcoming death to gain wisdom was his first ordeal, the other two will be explained in a later chapter.
The path of the wise requires continuous practice and vigilance so that one can continue to grow through knowledge and experience. Information and ability that is not utilized is useless. The Hugrunes tell us: "knowing has its costs—full hangs the fruit, low hangs the bough" (47). As I have stated, it is not easy to gain transcendence, where you overcome your own humanity, your own attachment to all that you know and all that you are. Once you can detach yourself from that mindset and shine that divine light on others, then you can begin to walk in the way of the wise.