Fire and Ice | Nov 1997

FMBR Editorial: Nov, 1997

Fire and Ice

Marshall Pease

I have long been fascinated by the creation myth of the pre-Christian Norse as described by Snorri Sturluson in the Prose Edda. Admittedly this Edda is not considered a reliable source for the early Norse mythology since it was written around 1200 AD in Iceland, 200 years after Iceland formally adopted Christianity. Nevertheless, I find the myth of great interest for its connections to modern thinking.

The myth begins with the Fire world, Muspell, and the Ice World, Niflheim, separated by Ginnungengap, sometimes translated as the 'magically charged Void.' Nothing happened until sparks from Muspell fell on Niflheim, creating a mist in Ginnungengap. Out of this the giant, Ymir, was born and the first cow, Auhumla. Eventually the race of giants was born from Ymir, and the first gods freed from the ice by Auhumla.

It seems to me that Muspell, the fire world, speaks of energy and change without permanence or form. It appears similar to the Nagwal of Castenada, the Ring Chaos of Raga Yoga, Ain Soph of the Qabbalah, and the Void in general. Niflheim, the ice world, seems to speak of form and substance without change, duration without limit, identity without becoming. The myth says that the reality we know could exist only when these separate principles unite, each modifying the other. This seems remarkably prescient of modern physics which connects mass and energy as a basic principle (E = mc2).

What is even more interesting to me is the myth's application to psychology. In particular, language, all analytic thought, and most of our perceptions are almost wholly dependent on what can be thought of as ice attributes. We see a tree and name it as such. Yet the wind blows and the branches sway. The seasons bring greater changes. There is continual change in what we actually see, yet what we normally recognize is a single, persistent entity, the tree. We attend to what persists despite all changes its ice attribute.

On the other hand, there are many who believe that the 'deep grammar' of our thoughts is rooted in actions and change. This is considered to be the grammar of our pre-verbal thoughts, before they are translated into what can be articulated. In it, an action which is the root of a thought must be an instantaneous phenomenon, conceived without any implied duration. If so, it says our thoughts originate as fire concepts.

Furthermore, if we introspect, we find our normal mental state is one of continual change. Thoughts, perceptions and associations swirl across our consciousness each briefly absorbing a moment of attention. To quiet this activity is a stated goal of most (all?) meditative practices and is not easy to achieve. Maybe the goal is better defined as achieving an awareness of our true, deep essence as a fire entity.

What is particularly clear is that our ego works hard to defend against threatened changes. Seeking permanence, the ego is clearly an ice construct. Yet, if our spirit is fire, this suggests a fundamental conflict within ourselves. Perhaps in this conflict there is the basic challenge of life. Perhaps we are truly fire spirits seeking to learn how to function in an ice world and needing to achieve mastery of both!

Marshall Pease