10 May 2009

Prayer Beads, Week 1: Moon, Yggdrasil, Sun

I am going to start an exercise of walking through the Northern Tradition Pagan Prayer Beads, going through three at a time, starting with the set that makes up the Moon, Yggdrasil, and the Sun. This will involve my musings and some sources on the entities mentioned, any contemplations I feel worth making at the time. This is just going to cover a surface layer of meaning, but it is a good way to get started.

My plan is to release a new set on each Sunday. This is based on a previous exercise I was working on with my personal blog, but I stopped since I started this blog. My plan is to now finish that work, now that this blog is better established.

Week 1

In the eye of the Moon, I walk willingly into darkness.
In the circle of Yggdrasil, the Great Tree, I find my place within eternity.
In the eye of the Sun, I celebrate that which gives life.

The beads technically start and end with Yggdrasil, but this set of three makes a convenient place to start for analysis, since they come in a set of three.


The Moon is masculine in the Norse tradition, represented by the god Máni. In Vafþrúðnismál we see the jotun Vafþrúðnir answer Odin (in the guise of Gagnráðr) on the question of the origins of the sun and the moon.

Segðu þat annat,
ef þítt æði dugir
ok þú, Vafþrúðnir, vitir,
hvaðan máni um kom,
svá at ferr menn yfir,
eða sól it sama.

Mundilfæri heitir,
hann er mána faðir
ok svá Sólar it sama;
himin hverfa
þau skolo hverian dag
öldom at ártali.
Tell me secondly,
if thy wit suffices,
and thou, Vafþrúðnir! knowest,
whence came the moon,
which over mankind passes,
and the sun likewise?

Mundilfoeri hight he,
who the moon’s father is,
and eke the sun’s:
round heaven journey
each day they must,
to count years for men.

These passages indicate, on the roughest level, that they both provide measures of time but not much else is mentioned or known (beyond that they are pursued by wolves in Grímnismál). It seems fairly fanciful stuff, and I tend to think that it should be taken as an allegory rather than interpreted literally. The question is, to what? In this I am currently uncertain, and so I do not have the key to unlock this particular story. Thus, there isn't much in the Lore for me to work with. So perhaps in this case we should simply associate the "Eye of the Moon" with "Night" and focus instead on the later half of the prayer.

Darkness is a recurring theme in the prayer beads. It occurs for three different beads:

In the name of Hermod, Traveler on Hel's Road, may I never fear to
walk in darkness.
In the name of Mordgud, Guardian of the Gate, may my barriers of
darkness open to my hand.
In the Eye of the Moon I walk willingly into darkness.

The fact that the Moon is the last of these seems significant, as taken together they tell a story: I do not fear to walk in darkness, may my barriers of darkness open as I approach them, and "I take that step into darkness." I find the use of the word "my" in the second part to be particularly meaningful: the hardest challenges we face are seldom external to ourselves. Dion Fortune wrote in The Mystical Qabalah that:

Whosoever is thus inhibited is unfit for the Mysteries, over whose portal was
written the words, "Know thyself."

Coming at the end of the beads, as it does, we see that the cycle never ends. "Having completed my journey, I begin again, walking into darkness." Walking into the unknown or perhaps into the unknowable, walking into the depths of our own soul, the parts that we scarcely acknowledge even to ourselves. Doing this takes more courage--and I, at least, approach it with more trepidation--than staring down any tangible enemy ever will. No matter how far we travel, it is still there, waiting for us.


Yggdrasil has a bit of a disputed etymology, but the most commonly accepted one is to interpret askr Yggdrasils as "horse on which the highest god is bound," viewing the gallows as the "horse of the hanged." Interpreting the first part "Yggr" to not refer to Odin but rather to its root meaning of "Terror," we could also see Yggdrasil as the "Tree of Terror."

It is said to form the center of the the nine worlds. Raven Kaldera describes visions as part of his Shaman Sickness where he "kept seeing a Great Tree that turned and rotated as I watched; worlds lay in its branches like ripe fruit."

Suffice it to say, Yggdrasil is an amazing sight.

So what does it mean, "In the Circle of Yggdrasil, the Great Tree, I find my place within eternity." For me an interpretation would be "this is where I have chosen to start, from here I will find my wyrd." The beads themselves represent a journey through the nine worlds, and keeping with our theme from the moon: From here it starts, here it ends, and here the journey begins anew.


Like the moon, the extant lore on Sunna, the sun, is fairly minimal. We see that the deity is clearly represented as Female, which helps contribute to a double-meaning for the prayer:

In the eye of the Sun I celebrate that which gives life.

I celebrate all of the life-bringing forces of the world. Where the previous two prayers focus on the self and one's personal journey, this one is a pure celebration of the world around us. In it we can almost smell the slow coming of spring and feel the chill of the longest night. It is also a celebration of pregnancy, sex, and everything else that goes into the process of life for animals.

What a wonderful way to start the journey.

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