A Draught from the Well of Memory

For three weeks (in late December through early January) I went home to Florida, a welcome reprieve from the brutal punishments visited upon Illinois by the Frost Giants each winter. It had been two years since I last visited my family; I was overjoyed to return home and reconnect. Lodged at my mother’s house, I basked in the glory of Florida’s sun and consumed plate-fulls of Southern hospitality.

After Yule but before the New Year, my mother told me that she’d planned a three-day trip to Georgia. She has an aunt and several cousins there that she wanted to visit, and she wanted me to meet them, or rather to see them again for the first time since I was 12 years old. My mouth was full of yummy goodness when she informed me of the trip. Suddenly 16 again, I grumbled past the fork full of rice, gravy, and green beans in my mouth; I didn’t want to drag myself across another state line. However, as the date grew closer I became more excited to see our distant relatives. Reflecting back on our time in Georgia, I am tremendously glad that I went and the next time I have a chance to go I will do so with bells on. Sixteen year-old me can stuff it.

While we were there I met my mother’s aunt who is in her early 90s. In the halls of her home I was small again and the adults were chatting about a slew of things that weren’t my business. Then again, I was always the kid with her ear to the door or her nose pressed to the glass; I made everything my business. I expected this visit to be similar, but it wasn’t. I found myself having a conversation with my mother and the 90 year-old matriarch of my Georgia kin. Between reflections on her ill health she told stories of her days raising more children than she could keep track of. She whispered of the challenges of doing that work alone. She told tales of her sisters and brothers and her children who have since passed on. She spoke of many things, all against the backdrop of well-preserved furniture, antique figurines, and the eager ears of gathered family. In her presence, with so much history on her lips, I couldn’t help but reflect upon Memory.

In Norse cosmology – one of the symbol systems that I am best versed in – Memory is part of our individual and collective being, and a key agent in the formation of individual and collective Identity. Consequently, a great deal of importance was placed upon a community’s ability to remember and upon each individual’s worthiness to be remembered. Memory is what may be left of us in Midgard long after our bones are turned to dust. Memory is the story of us, the legend that allows those who come years later to know us and to remember those aspects of us that most need to survive the ravages of time. As my long-lived Georgia kinswoman spoke, I listened. I absorbed the stories she told so that I could remember them and so that I could remember her. I took in the stories told by my mother’s two cousins as well, neither as aged as my mother’s aunt but both full of Memory. I silently committed their stories to my memory, and those narratives I will pass on to the younger generations of my family.

If Wyrd is the complex and nuanced web of present actions, reactions, and inactions coalescing into a collective past and giving rise to a shared future then Memory is the Record and the Ledger of that Wyrd. By way of Memory we keep track of the story of each person’s life and the unique weaving together of it all. Memory is how we come to know and understand year upon year of successes and triumphs, loses and missteps. It is also how we come to know and understand what it possible and the ends to which we collectively may strive. It was in fact in my kinswoman’s living room with the air full of Memory that I came to fully understand Odin’s words from the Grímnismál: “For Hugin I fear lest he come not home, but for Munin my care is more.” Memory is the rhyme and reason of our lives and of our individual and collective Identity; without it we are lost.

The human life is rich and diverse, filled with a host of happenings – some grand and most commonplace. Memory is the unique, blessed, and magical alchemy that marks and then draws out the most significant aspects of that glorious nonsense and crafts meaning from it. The virtues and the vices, the good and the bad, the should and the should not, the could and could not are born in experience, and then synthesized and raised up by Memory. Memory shapes and elevates both the individual and the community.

Illustration of Saga pouring a draught for Odin by Jenny Nyström (1893)

Illustration of Saga pouring a draught for Odin by Jenny Nyström (1893)

Memory is mighty and its magic should not be ignored. The magic of Memory is the substance of a good symbel. That ritual draws much of its might from its potential to Tap the Well and Remember all that is toast and boast worthy, and to use the Memory Ale that bubbles forth to draw Might and Luck for the future. The magic of Memory can also be harnessed in other ritual forms. Personal rituals that focus on our own stories can be mighty. A great deal of our lives is tied up in the story we tell. If we tell a story of woe and suffering then that is what we remember. If we tell a story of challenge, resilience, and eventual triumph then that is what we remember. Personal rituals inspired by symbel or other ritual formats can be powerful sacred spaces in which to story or re-story key facets of our lives and reap both the spiritual and the psychological import of that (re)frame. Our lives are not as simple as the story we tell but they can certainly become as blessed and mighty as we choose to remember them. And we can draw in the precious stories of generations before, finding connections and shared meaning across time and place. Memory has many lessons, many gifts, and many blessings to bestow and so consider taking time to invoke Memory for yourself, for your family, and for your community. Remember the life stories that matter most to you. Remember the experiences that identify and shape you. In so doing, draw up your draught from the Well of Memory and share it with others in frith and grith.

My mother’s aunt and cousins offered a powerful brew and I feel blessed to have had a chance to partake. Hail the Well of Memory, Memory’s Potent Draught, and Wyrd’s Weaving!

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