Writer’s Block from a Heathen Perspective
Right, so I know I’m breaking a rule of writing by writing about writer’s block – one, because it’s whiny and often feels a lot like trying to get people to praise you, and two, because it’s boring to read! Why would anyone else want to read about how hard it is to write? Write or get out of the kitchen. Don’t complain about it. But, I have this idea about how it relates to Heathenry and our gods, which I feel is a fresh take on a worn out subject.
When it comes to gods of writing there are two that stands out in the Norse pantheon: Odin and Bragi. Both these gods are connected with poetry, though, rather than with prose writing as we think of it in modern times. While runes had been used in Germanic speaking areas for hundreds of years, most (if not all) prose was probably oral. Sagas and laws were remembered and transmitted orally, rather than written down, until after Christianisation of the “nobility”. But it seems reasonable to assume that, had this kind of prose existed at the time, a blocked writer could have turned to Odin or Bragi for help – or, it occurs to me now, Saga.
(Damn, it’s always like this. Rather than writing what I had originally intended I ended up discussing the technical and historical background to the lack of written prose in pre-Christian Scandinavia. Interesting, but not conducive to getting my writing done…)
Despite me dabbling in old Norse poetry/skaldic art, Odin and I have never had what you might call a close friendship. While I have given offerings to him in blóts and written some poems inviting him (my grandfather like Odin a lot) I have almost never made any personal blót to him outside seasonal celebrations. As a Frey’s man, I find his association with war and violence less appetising, and his unreliable nature a bit scary. As the god of the fickle fortunes of war, as well as the personification of nightly storms of autumn and winter, this trait suits him, and one could argue that it fits in well with him being a god of writing and authors. One never knows when inspiration strikes, nor when he leaves. Since óðr, from which Odin is derived, can be translated either as “rage”, “madness” or as “divine inspiration”, I feel our ancestors really understood this.
I’m the kind of writer that relies heavily on inspiration for my own writing, and when inspiration fails me, I get stuck. It’s a terrible feeling. It’s like being paralysed in a limb (or so I imagine). But when I’ve worked as a journalist I’ve been able to access a style of writing that I associate more with Bragi and Saga, the “just keep writing” approach. When the work isn’t about expressing oneself, but about using a toolbox that one has developed over the years writing on the basis of inspiration, inspiration becomes less of an issue.
From my perspective, Bragi is the personification of the technical skill of writing. I have no real basis for this, other than my own experience and that with two gods of poetry, where one represents the wild inspiration, it seems reasonable to assume that the other would cover the form and the rules of writing – the trade, as it were. Saga, then, is the deity covering the reporting style of writing; the biography, the documentary, the feature article. She is the writer, having collected and sorted the facts, reporting them.
A friend of mine is an author. She approaches her writing the Saga and Bragi way, and when I complain about being unable to unable to write she tells me to do the same. I really wish I could, but for all the time I’ve been writing I’ve never mastered that for myself. A thought strikes me as I write these words, though: Maybe I need to come to terms with ol’ Greybeard and his fickle nature, and maybe that is the way to win back my unreliable muse. The thought of starting to work with the hanged god, the thief of the mead, makes me uneasy. And perhaps that is just as it should.