Bright from The Well
Northern Tales in The Modern World
Subjects: Northern Tradition/Chaos Magick.
Attentive readers might have noticed me banging on about the collective & individual fading of memory, & the need to imagine an alternative language to talk about radical social change, entailing a re-memberance, or putting together of scattered parts strewn over a landscape of fragments.
Into my hands recently came a new book by Dave Lee, Bright from the Well – Northern Tales in the Modern World. Mandrake of Oxford (2008). It’s a retelling & reimagining of the creation & social origin myths of the Northern European tradition, including the Völuspá, & Rigsþula (Rig’s Tale). Comprising five short stories & five essays, it’s an odd but compelling read, combining a reworked & updated phenomenology of the myths with vividly told stories set in the contemporary world of would-be sorcerers & Chaos Magic.
Those with a suspicious turn of mind wrongly might detect a whiff of the Thule Society, & the romantic/reactionary projects dreamed up by the likes of W. B. Yeats & D. H. Lawrence, which often resulted in psychosomatic afflictions of the right arm. But Dave Lee is no New Ager, sharing my view that these are people with too many easily acquired beliefs to spend, who couldn’t think their way out of a paper bag. Think rather of the imaginative legacy & radical engagement of William Blake. Great stuff, ideas sparking off in all directions.
Klaus Bubblehammer, Bubblehammerblog
Bright From The Well
– Northern Tales in the Modern World
by Dave Lee
Review by Akashanath
A common difficulty for magicians moving from one tradition to another is reductio ad nauseum. With little effort, it is easy to nail the symbolism of one’s latest trip onto the pre-existing crucifix of one’s earlier experiences, eventually reducing every opportunity for novelty to a stale repeat of one’s preconceptions. Chaos Magick has often fallen into this trap, its dogma of ‘non-dogmatism’ leading adherents to strip belief-systems to their ‘essentials’, sometimes to the point where they lose much of their beauty and function. At the opposite extreme one can simply be overwhelmed by the strangeness and unfamiliarity of a new world-view, and fail to find a point from which to begin one’s assimilation. The Norse and Saxon myths, with their fragmented, archaic language and almost prehistoric themes, can often evoke this type of response. In his newest book, Dave Lee lithely navigates the pass between these twin peaks, taking time to pause and explore the dilemmas, or muse on them in the form of short fables. People expecting a book about the runes will not be disappointed. Those hoping for further expositions on the subject(s) of Chaos Magick will find plenty of interest. But for me where Bright From The Well comes into its own is as a series of reflections on dilemmas that will be familiar to many 21st century occultists.
For example, Chapter 5 is entitled “The Magician In and Against The World.” It’s essentially an analysis of the twin functions of the magician as anarchist, challenging the false autocracy of consensus reality, and the magician as priest, strengthening social traditions by helping the laity to connect them to their spiritual and cosmic sources. Within his complex analysis, Dave grapples with magicians’ tendencies towards transcendence on the one hand and immanence on the other. This rang loud bells for me; in my magickal quest I have often lurched from mind-bending hedonism to ruthless ascetic austerity and back again, struggling to marry my hungers and drives with some arbitrary construct of ultimate purpose. Dave also concludes that some sort of unification is necessary, describing this in terms of the intermarriage of the Vanir and the Aesir, the two Northern pantheons who exchange hostages somewhere near the beginning of time. Dave’s exegesis interprets the former as gods of immanence and the latter as deities of transcendence and consciousness (though not exclusively so). In a story from Snorri’s Prose Edda, Dave tells us how the Aesir (in the form of Odin) and the Vanir (in the form of Tyr) trick the Fenriswoolf (primal chaos) into allowing itself to be bound, creating the ordered universe that is a necessary precondition for human society and hence both esoteric and exoteric religious practice.
Students of Tantrika may find parallels here, and indeed Dave makes passing reference to the left and right hand paths. In many contemporary Hindu icons the transcendent Shiva is depicted sitting on his mountain, meditating and smoking Ganja, largely disinterested in the world. One myth tells us how the goddess Kali once went on a killing spree. Initially invoked by men seeking support in their war with the demons, Kali has lost sight of her original intention in an orgy of destruction. With all the demons slain, she turns her unstoppable fury on her former allies, slaughtering them with her many arms. Summoned from his mountain, Shiva is intrigued. Lying in front of her with his c**k erect, he looks up, turned on by her warped face and blood-stained body. Gradually her lust for killing turns into a different kind of lust, and the two deities begin to f**k. Separate from one another, they are aimless, functionless. In unity, Siva (transcendence) gains the capacity to manifest in the physical world, while Kali (immanence) transmutes her destructive power to generative.
Some of the other sections completely obviate the need for parallels by speaking directly to the magician’s experience. In Chapter 7, the author recounts a fascinating and credible list of magickal anecdotes spanning over 20 (and perhaps closer to 30?) years of workings, grouped into a rough typology of function. Several chapters take the form of stories, some obviously derived from Nordic originals, others less so. The style is engaging and entertaining, not laboriously educational or annoyingly whimsical, and each is short enough to be knocked off quickly (or omitted altogether) should it not be to the reader’s taste.
As well as re-telling stories from the northern traditions and presenting a novel method of working with the entities described as dwarves, the book contains a complete rune poem in English. Although it probably wouldn’t stand alone as a manual of rune magick, anyone genuinely interested in the subject could probably learn something new. The main strength, for those interested in Nordic traditions, will probably be for those looking for another perspective from which to triangulate dry, historical academic texts on the one hand and the often pedantic dogmatism of modern Odinists on the other. Overall, as the title implies, the collection is refreshing and inspired. Well worth a read!