According to Norse legend the first man and first woman were made from two trees: an Ash and an Elm respectively. The story goes that walking at the water’s edge one day Odin and his two brothers Vili and Vé came across these two trees and together they gifted them the powers that brought them into conscious, human form.
One of my favourite ways of working is to re-visit a myth through guided meditation to gain new perspectives and insights. I’ve visited the birthing of Ask (Ash) and Embla (Elm) many times – in fact I took two classes through the meditation in the last couple of weeks as part of some work with the Ansuz rune), and it always brings something fresh. Now, I could talk about where the trees came from, why they were there, or what their purpose was but today I want to talk about choice. It came to me quite clearly during the second class that the hands and feet of Ask and Embla are incredibly important. The Gods gave man and woman a form that meant they could literally uproot to a more preferable location should they wish. Not only that, they could also shape their external environment to suit them in a way that a tree simply cannot. In consequence the chances of a single seed surviving and thriving are far smaller than those of its human counterpart.
Now, don’t get me wrong – we aren’t all in a position of privilege and power that makes us sovereign over our environment. Fundamentally, however, we are in a better position to choose and shape our environment than all plants and most animals. Having said that, we do have roots: cultural, ideological, social, spiritual, economic, biological, intellectual and emotional to name a few. We are physically less interwoven with our environment than trees – but we are still interwoven. To function as a human being we need these unseen roots just as much as a tree needs its physical roots.
Which is why today I wanted to talk about spiritual roots. I am a believer in conscious evolution and, as such, I believe in my right, and your right, to choose the spirituality that is going to best meet our needs. I also believe that in this this day and age we need deep spiritual roots because so much of the rest of our world needs changing (i.e. uprooting and re-planting). So if you’re someone who wants to change the world for the better here’s some questions to help you determine if your spiritual roots are nourishing you well:
- Who chose your spirituality?
- Are you someone whose spirituality forms an essential part of their ability to thrive?
- Does your spirituality meet your needs?
You could substitute the word religion in all of the questions above so I should clarify that, to me, religion is a constructed house for spirituality. Indeed, some spiritualities don’t need a house or are a bit nomadic.
Who chose your spirituality?
For many of us our religion (or lack thereof) was chosen for us by our community. Religious identity comes as part and parcel of community identity making it challenging to uproot because that spiritual root is intertwined with emotional and cultural ones. I know many people for whom the break with their childhood spirituality was a painful one. I also know of people who broke with a previously cherished and valued spirituality in a fairly aggressive way (i.e. “I was led down a false path, but now I have found truth”). To these people I extend the invitation to consider for a moment that they are sovereign of their own choices when it comes to spirituality. Maybe they throve in one spiritual environment but at some point their spiritual needs changed? It doesn’t make the little glade of sunshine where they spent their sapling days was a lie – it just means they need some different nutrients to get to the next stage of their grown. Equally, if you are someone who chooses to follow the religion of your family because it nourishes your emotional and cultural roots then go for it – maybe the emotional and cultural roots are the ones you need to thrive? Or maybe there’s more wriggle room for your spiritual root than you think?
Now isn’t the time to go into personal interpretation of the divine, eclectic practice or negotiations between your patron deities (maybe some other time). What it is worth noting is that when the divine comes calling it’s worth paying attention – because if anyone knows better than you or your family what your spiritual needs are it’s going to be a god. Having said that it is still up to you to choose
. Your spiritual root is just one of a whole complex of other roots. If Loki comes calling (and I speak from personal experience here) you may well want to consider the importance of your friendships, finances and freedom before entering wholeheartedly into priesthood with the god of mischief (no matter how deep his spiritual teachings).
Are you someone whose spirituality forms an essential part of their ability to thrive?
I have to confess that I personally find it difficult to conceive of someone for whom spirituality doesn’t form part of their root system. Even if it’s communing with nature, enjoying beauty, or marvelling at how the stars stay fixed in the sky. But not all of us need emotional connection, financial stability or acceptance within a social community to thrive so I’ll take it as read that spirituality is the same. It’s worth you considering, however, what level of spiritual succour you require.
I was brought up as a Christian and it was precisely the lack of direct, revelatory spiritual encounter that I felt in church that brought me to the recognition of my own spiritual needs. I got more out of sitting at home with my candle on Christmas Eve and thinking about the baby Jesus being born that very moment
than I did from my Sunday school or my vicar. It simply wasn’t the right soil for me to thrive in – but it did serve a really important function in telling me I had a root to tend to.
Does your spirituality meet your needs?
This could form a topic in its own right so, for now, let’s consider a few key pointers:
- Do the myths and legends inspire you?
- Do you require direct revelatory experience or do you prefer someone else to mediate?
- Do you like ceremony and ritual?
- Do you like your spiritual trappings simple or fancy?
- Is the divine separate from you, present around you, in you (or a combination)?
In many cases a particular spiritual tradition holds a number of pathways within it (it wouldn’t have survived if it couldn’t meet the diversity of human needs after all). Knowing what you value, what your preferences are, and what features of practice you require to remain a nice, fulfilled person is at the very heart of your ability to choose a spiritual practice where you will thrive.
In the legend of Ask and Embla I find a rich tapestry of revelation, experience and succour for my spiritual roots. As well as Ansuz the story of the first man and first woman reminds me of Gebo – the rune of gifting and exchange with the Gods. May your spiritual path be fruitful, joyful and sustaining to your magnificent soul.