Utsettning, Meditation in the Northern Tradition

Many of the people who come to our indigenous Northern traditions had firstly explored other faiths or types of direct religious experience. Some imagined themselves as an idealized version of an Amerindian. Others go study in India or follow the Hawaiian shamanic tradition. One aspect of these other cultures which the rootless Westerner seeks is the idea of meditation.

Most of these folks, having been raised Christian, assumed that they did not have a meditative tradition of their own to learn. It is easier for us to learn something or practice something with which we have a collective soul memory, which we can think of as beyond the layer of the individual, that of the familial (especially extended familial) experience “written” on your genes and the greater family to which each family belongs, his or her race. The former is known as Kynnsfylgja and the latter as Oettarsfylgja. The Fyjgjar can be thought of as forces or even like diminutive persons, like fairies, placed into each person at his or her birth by the Sisters of Fate, the Norns. They are

“Carriers” or fetchers of our genetic experience, even from prior incarnations. In modern scientific terms, such carrying forth and what is written on the genes of the descendants by the lives of the ancestors is described as epigenetics.

If you are of Scotch-Irish descent, sure, you could learn Santeria, and some have done so, but it would be much more consonant with your core identity for you to learn galdr and berendr from your own or a Celtic tradition. To do so is to stand in authenticity, not borrowing upon the genetic experience of another Folk, but building upon one’s own and assuring its continuation as one more patch in the crazy quilt of this modern world. This is not to say that any one tradition is better or worse than another. It’s just that, the way our ancestors understood it, if you were a third generation scion of the Bach family, it would be much easier for you to learn music than for the child of a tailor who lived nearby- inherently easier.

So why would your Nordic ancestors have meditated? We don’t know that this tradition was not a simply assumed part of life or religious practice in the pre-Christian North. The meditative state of relaxed, yet focused awareness may have emerged from the universal human experience of the wandervogel, the long ages of hunter-gatherer existence, as the hunter’s state of mind- observant, yet cleared of clutter or repetitive thoughts, ready to spring into action should game be sited, but still and passive in ambush (like at a watering hole) until that moment.

If you think of it, meditation was always a natural way to alter the consciousness without having to ingest an entheogen. In one of the few of our ancient writings not to have been altered by Christian interpolation or redaction, The Paradigms of Seidr, meditational practices are frequently mentioned. Several of the extended Rune set, that of the 33 Northumbrian set, are ideograms of meditative practice, although many modern runic interpreters, basing their knowledge not on a living tradition, but on writing during the Germanic cultural revival of the 19th Century, ignore this.

I speculate that, if one looks at life in the far north, where days are very short in deep winter and the midnight sun is known at summer solstice, the activity cycle of our ancestors had a lot to do with their need to meditate. Winters would be cold and dark. One could only store up so many candles or lighter-knots. Deep darkness at night in homes devoid of the spacious windows of modern homes would have been the rule.

In such circumstances, with the outside impassible and chores done before the deep freeze, the mind generated DMT, the dream chemical our brains produce in dark circumstances and no doubt people sat and enjoyed the ‘show’.

We find all kinds of seated figures in petroglyphs and carvings that have survived from the ancient North, which imply a tradition of meditation and the prolonged darkness may have precipitated spontaneous and vivid religious experiences, as happened to two trapped Pennsylvania miners in modern times:

“In August 1963, David Fellin, 58, and Henry Throne, 28, two coal miners in Hazleton, Pennsylvania, emerged from a caved-in mine shaft, after fourteen days of being trapped hundreds of feet below the surface.

In successive interviews granted with television and newspaper reporters, both men claimed to have started experiencing some amazing visions on the fourth or fifth day, although they were in total darkness. They saw a door enveloped in a bright blue light. At the door were marble stairs, and people walking up and down the steps. Beyond the door, was a garden that stretched as far as the eye could see with colorful, bright flowers and green grass. Looking down on the two miners was Pope John XXIII, although he had passed away ten weeks previously. The miners also asserted that they shared an out-of-body experience.”

(Source: https://www.bellaonline.com/articles/art55544.asp)\

So, the meditative state, the visionary state, can be brought about unplanned, by accident, or, as we know from quietist traditions, it can be cultivated.

Light deprivation is use in inducing spiritual experiences. In Mustang and Nepal, there is a tradition of the Buddhist monk’s going into a stone hut which is in complete darkness for days. Minimal food and drink are passed through an opening at night once a day. Light deprivation at a time of year when candles were scarce and there was little to do indoors made meditation a natural activity. For more on the role of light deprivation in stimulating the pineal gland to release DMT, the “spirit molecule” read  (https://www.blissout.co/blog/what-is-dark-therapy)

Much of our folkways did not survive Christian persecution, but some memories and even terms from those times do come down to the present. Utsettning is one such curious term. It is literally “sitting outside,” that is to say being still, not doing anything, simply breathing and observing. It was not necessary to be in any particular stance or posture, but petroglyphs and carvings of ritual observances from the ancient North show people seated in positions that look “Oriental,” so this knowledge may once have been global. Today, we still have the practices of The Danubians, which involves meditative postures and anti-aging exercises. I have heard of a martial art similar to Tai Chi in Norway, known as Stav and one in Ireland known as Sli Breatha. Unlike the East, where such practices could flourish, in the West, they existed on the fringes, if at all, being, as they were, tied in with Pagan culture.

Even in modern times, a meditative tradition has flourished in the West for artists and inventors.

“When Thomas Edison hit a wall with his inventions, he would nap in an armchair while holding a steel ball. As he started to fall asleep and his muscles relaxed, the ball would strike the floor, waking him with insights into his problems.” He was not the only 20th Century luminary to do such a practice, “Like Edison, surrealist painter Salvador Dalí believed interrupting sleep’s onset could boost creativity. (He used a heavy key instead of a metal ball.)” From: (https://www.science.org/content/article/edison-was-right-waking-right-after-drifting-sleep-can-boost-creativity)

I tried to obtain a simple definition of meditation and got a page full of different answers. I found the most comprehensive one to be as follows: “Meditation is a practice in which an individual uses a technique – such as mindfulness, or focusing the mind on a particular object, thought, or activity – to train attention and awareness, and achieve a mentally clear and emotionally calm and stable state. Meditation is practiced in numerous religious traditions.” From this perspective, clearing the mind through waking in a hypnopopic state, where the mind is clear and awareness is focused, would certainly qualify as a form of meditation.

When I think of a modern understanding of meditation, I hear the echo of ancient gyðja or goði who recorded this in the 27th Paradigm of the Seidr:

”World that is known builds from thought. As seer, it is unlearned, forgotten. Cleansed of talk, I confront the world. My talk deconstructed, I float without anchor in the eternal.”

So here we have an ancient Northern practice recorded of quieting the discursive mind, the internal chattering voice of ideophoria, what in Theravadin practice is known as “monkey mind,” many millennia before we go to an ashram, gym, or meditation hall. What’s old is new again.

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