It being Memorial Day weekend, being a Veteran, and fourth generation United States Army, as I sat beneath the Black Cherry tree in my yard, listening to the birds twitter, I quietly hummed a verse by Óláfr Þórðarson:
Flugu hrafnar tveir, af Hnikars Ǫxlum;
Huginn til hanga, en á hræ Muninn.
Fly two ravens, at Wodan’s shoulder.
Hugin for the hanged, slain in battle for Munin.
I’ve been researching and experiencing the Language of the Birds for at least two decades, and though I have written extensively on the subject, those writings remain in my personal journal. Not for want of sharing what I have found, for I firmly believe, as all my writings attest, that this information – Seiðr, magic, mystic, shamanic, what-have-you – is not the singular property of one but a gift that bears re-gifting. However, what I have discovered is that, more than regular information, this language is an initiatory undertaking and process; and that .. no one can teach. Which is why my personal findings, results, and participation with this language will remain intimate.
With that said, there is basic enough information on the language, if not vague, that includes all sorts of interesting explanations, from it being a whistled dialect in mountainous regions, to its being a secret means of communication within either Alchemy or Kabbala, even to it being the ‘language of angels’. No doubt, these approaches are well and good enough for many to find interest in, but they are not what resonates within my own being; and to that, I must heed.
My focus has been on the actual Language of the Birds, and how it came about; which is why my first question was, “Why birds?” Next, reading how Sigurd acquired the ability to understand birds – by tasting the blood of Fafnir – my next question was, “What is the relationship between serpents and birds?”
As a Seiðwoman (for almost 40 years), I view such communication as the means by which Mother Earth informs our thoughts, and in so doing, guides our actions. As to ‘why birds’, to me, they are clearly intermediaries between land, sky, and water, making it easy to understand – and especially when coupled with reading the Lore, or mythology – how ancient people came to consider them as conveyors of otherworldly wisdom. As to the connection between serpent and bird, one need only begin with Wodan; and for the language itself – which is readily found throughout Germanic culture – one can look here:
Gesta Danorum V,
Ragnars saga loðbrókar,
Völsunga saga, and
Reading through these, I am prompted to add another question to my list; namely, “Is this hereditary?” For that answer, one need only look to Sigurd’s daughter, Áslaug. And as an aside, for you ladies looking for more-than-topical information on the role of women in Germanic culture, read Ragnars saga loðbrókar, where clearly, Áslaug reigns supreme.
So, back to Sigurd’s ability, to Wodan’s relationship with his two ravens, to Áslaug and Guðrún, and the Valkyrie, the common theme that connects them all is kingly / priestly individuals who relay practical information, and transcendent wisdom. Look to the World Tree for example: At its roots, the Great Serpent, and at the peak of its branches, the Great Eagle. As someone who has dedicated their life to the acquisition of Seiðr, and conveying the same to those who feel called to re-remember, the World Tree stands as a shining example of the movement from Below to Above. Or, as Carl Jung considered: Birds are symbolic of the “flight” from unconscious to conscious. In fact, this example of serpent below and bird above is reminiscent of Wodan’s shapeshifting in his acquisition of Sacred Mead. At the least, Germania 10 relates the importance of bird augury among the Germanic tribes: “For omens and the casting of lots they have the highest regard.”
There is something about serpents, because along similar lines, the Gesta Danorum relates a tantalizing tale of a mother who serves her two sons a stew made from the dripping venom of snakes. Upon eating, one of the son’s acquires the ability to understand “wild animals”. No, not birds specifically, but interesting nonetheless. Likewise, from Scandinavia folklore, we find that if one prepares to eat (specifically) a ‘white snake’, it will produce three drops: one for wisdom, one for second sight, and a third for madness. Other tales relate how eating snake results in both the ability to converse with animals, and be eloquent among men. Reading these, I cannot help but wonder about Loki’s fate: Bound by his son’s entrails, with serpent venom dripping upon him – which Sigyn tries to collect. Where she fails to catch the poison, he experiences such pain as to cause earthquakes. So I am want to ask: “Why no wisdom or Language of the Birds for Loki?” If, for example, this is strictly a kingly / priestly manifestation, then Loki’s potion may be that third drop: madness.
All of this has interest to me because, since childhood, I have spoken with animals. In fact, my grandfather was an animal whisperer. As a child, I recall a man asking my grandfather how he got so good at taming horses (one of his many skills); he replied that he simply spoke to them. The man then asked how he spoke to them, and my grandfather explained this was due to his mother (an Irish cunningwoman) having him eat hawk tongue, and drink milk poured through its feathers. As a teen, I always thought this a funny story, more akin to saying, “Mind your own business.” As an adult, I now wish I would have asked for details.
Early-on, while researching and attempting to experience Seiðr, I would sit for long hours watching the flight of birds. Their murmurations bringing about a meditative state, which allowed my soul to journey with the Fetch. Over time, I noticed how the things I saw with those ‘other eyes’ more often than not, came to pass. In fact, Hugin and Munin are, to me, very much akin to soul and Fetch, moving about, as they do, free from my body. Which is why I contend that this information is more initiatory than textually relatable. Even now, as I type, I am sitting outside listening and watching the Crows as they light about the yard; tossing their head to the side, looking at me, or walking tall mere feet from where I sit. Almost as if they know what I am typing and wish to contribute. And just as they take flight, so too does my own experience ‘know’ that sensation, that transcendent weightless ascension, that Wyrd Consciousness – or that unfettering with the body to fetter with the spirit.
No doubt this is why I feel strongly that animals are more than intelligent, but have intelligence, and that if one were to dedicate their life to discovering a relationship with them, they would change in ways both subtle and profound: Physically, Intellectually, Emotionally, and Spiritually. In fact, the notion that animals play no role in our culture contributes, in my estimation, to the soul-sickness that plagues our society today.
To walk a wild path, to be still and listen, to wholly engage with nature and Náttúra, is to know life itself. Through my Seiðr, I advocate a return – even at the least level – to such Ur-consciousness.