“Spirit is the life that itself cuts life.” This Nietzchean statement puzzles and challenges. What might a spirituality that cuts life -- rather than just skimming over its surface -- look like?
Thurisaz: Pain, Growth, and Letting Go
• Thurisaz •
Old English Rune Poem
Thorn (Thorn) is extremely sharp, for any warrior
to grab it, evil; excessively fierce
to any man who among them rests.
Old Icelandic Rune Poem
Thurs (Giant) is woman’s illness,
and a cliff-dweller
and a Vardhrun’s husband.
Old Norse Rune Poem
Thurs (Giants) cause women’s sickness;
few are made cheerful by adversity.
~ Rune poem translations by Sweyn Plowright
The process of personal, psychological, or spiritual growth is not linear. Nor is it particularly logical, logic being largely alien to the domain of the deeper psyche. The expectation that one’s progress be secure in the arc of predictability is a sure means to achieving frustration and discouragement. Fits and starts are the order of the day.
If our flaws and weaknesses are the thorns in which we lie then they can be seen in two aspects. First of all, of course, as scourges, wounding forces which pierce us, weaken us. We become entangled in their clinging vines. Thus the familiar refrain of the person in suffering: “why is this happening to me again?”
Second, however, those same thorns are forces of wakening. The pain becomes so severe that it changes something inside. We become willing to break out of the comforting straightjackets of habit and grim expectation. The thorn breaks the skin, and eventually we take this as a pointing finger, calling on us to examine ourselves.
Thus the thorn, the pain and suffering that harries us through life, becomes an agent of its own healing. The stinging nettle stands out as a symbol of this process: its fine needles may hurt the skin, but they also stimulate the immune system and ultimately make their victim stronger.
Thorn therefore gives us the gift of willingness, contained – concealed – within the armor of hurt. In breaking us down, it can also refine and condense our spirit.
The old Heathens knew that things move in cycles. And so, finally, we hit bottom, in whatever form it takes. Sometimes “bottom” really isn’t that bad, and sometimes it is disastrous, but whatever moment it comes, it is the point of rebound, where we no longer acquiesce to business as usual and become willing to stand out into the uncertainty of change.
And so we begin to claw our way clear of the thorn bramble and its cruel ministrations. We begin to admit to ourselves the places where we too share responsibility for our suffering, even if only through our inaction, innocence, or confusion. We come to recognize that we must change ourselves, because it is impossible to rid the world of all thorns, and crazy-making to arrange our lives to avoid every single briar patch.
This is the gift of Thorn! We come to regard ourselves, to work on ourselves, to deepen ourselves. It inspires us to become human.
Yet as I mentioned, often the process of rising up from the thorn bed, of becoming resistant to the barb and the dart, is neither linear nor sure. We make advances, our hope and confidence swelling. Then a set-back strikes, and brings with it all the old stories of inevitable pain. Our precarious faith topples back into the abyss.
Here, then, is the fine art that the Thorn teaches: learning to let go of how we think things should be. Because if I do not expect my process of change or healing to be a perfect, smooth, ego-gratifyingly linear experience, I will hardly be disappointed when it reveals itself to be rocky, circuitous, and turbulent. I will realize that set-backs are a normal part of my spiritual progress. They are a sign that I am on my way.
Everyone faces adversity at some time in their life; soon or later we all lay ourselves down on a thicket of sharp points. Looked at in this way, the rune Thurisaz is simply a reminder to us, a helpful sign and warning of the dangers of living. It is neither good nor bad; like pain, it merely is, and we are the ones who must decide how it might affect us.
If the Norse and Icelandic poems’ references to women’s sickness or illness are indeed an allusion to morning sickness, then that seems a wholly appropriate image for the rune. It tells us that Thurisaz makes mothers of us all; our suffering impels us to give birth to new growth and new life.
I may not recommend that anyone rush to grasp the Thorn’s cruel point…but we must not forget that even when things seem dark, the very fact of our struggle should be cause for renewed optimism and faith for a different day ahead.
And although his connection to the rune seems historically tenuous, from a poetic perspective this might be the moment when Thor, that god of cataclysmic healing, enters Thurisaz’s story.
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