The Northern Mysteries Current: Futhark and Mystery Schools of the Viking Age
The existence of mystery schools in the Viking Age (800-1200 CE) is deduced from myth and folklore. The poems of the Edda display the structure and content of cultic texts used within the framework of initiatic organizations. Later, in Medieval Europe, we hear about secret societies associated with the Wild Hunt, Odin, and the Einherjar.
Their mysteries centered around the runes, which were already deployed magically in Ancient Germanic times (400-800 CE). The runic alphabet, or Futhark, is found in the archaeological record from the second century onwards. But its roots are far older.
Runic inscription carved into bone. Found in Sweden. ( CC BY-SA 3.0 )
The Ancient Germanic rune alphabet contains keys which make it possible to trace the origins of the Northern mysteries to shortly after the last Ice Age, 11,000 years ago; more properly the Late Glacial Maximum, lasting from 13,000 to 10,000 years ago.
After the glacial period, birch was the first deciduous tree to populate Europe. Its appearance coincides with the meaning and position of Berkana ‘birch twig’. The rune comes at the beginning of the third Aett; the Futhark is divided in three Aettir. The other tree species that populated Europe at that time was pine, represented by Eihwaz ‘yew’ in the runic alphabet.
‘Berkana’ rune and birch trees. ( CC BY-SA 3.0 )
Norse mythology provides another clue. Ask and Embla are the names of the first man and woman, created by a triad of gods and made from wood. Askr means ‘ash’ and embla ‘elm’. The two kinds of wood form a pair since very remote times.
Wooden carvings of Ask and Embla, the first human beings in Norse creation myths. (Flickr/ CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 )
Elm was used to make bows because the wood is flexible. Ash is used to make arrows, because the wood is very straight. Ash and elm represent bow and arrow. The weapon appeared in Northern Europe in Mesolithic times. Again, its appearance coincides with the end of the last Ice Age. Moreover, the Dutch word for elm is iep, cognate with modern English ‘yew’. Elm trees practically disappeared around 6,000 years ago, after which hunters switched to yew, equally known for its flexibility. Maybe Eihwaz originally referred to elm.
The Rök Runestone (Ög 136), located in Rök, Sweden features a Younger Futhark runic inscription that makes various references to Norse mythology. (Wiglaf/ CC BY-SA 3.0 )
Other, circumstantial, examples are Fehu and Jera. Fehu ‘cattle’ refers to the domestication of bovine creatures, circa 10,500 years ago. The Jera rune recounts a similar story. It means ‘harvest’ and refers to the cultivation of grain, domesticated around 12,000 years ago in the Levant.
The history of modern humanity seemingly starts with the end of the Late Glacial Maximum. It gracefully matches to the Neolithic revolution circa 11,000 years ago. Plants and animals were domesticated; people developed a more sedentary way of life. In esoteric teaching, this era coincides with the destruction of Atlantis.
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According to esoteric literature, the fall of Atlantis covered a period ranging from 25,000 to 12,000 years ago. Theosophy claims that the final destruction happened at 9,564 BCE.
The Atlanteans are said to have fled their sinking continents and relocated to Eurasia. According to Cayce, they fled in three migrations. Similarly, Dion Fortune explains how three migratory waves established the roots of the three great mystery currents. The first wave moved along Northern Europe into Asia. The second went more south and the third even more south, producing the mystery schools of Ancient Egypt. Steiner refers to the people of the first wave as the Hyperborean.
The Celtic Link
The initiates of the first wave worked on the Astral Plane. From it developed the Northern tradition and the Celtic tradition. A close relationship consequently exists between the two. Indeed, it is clear from the historical and contemporary traditions that the two currents influenced each other – if only because of their spatial proximity.
The Celtic tradition surfs on the Upper Astral level and expresses itself through Nature Worship. Beauty and art are its keywords. The tradition is associated with the faculty of imagination and the higher emotional self.
Ancient Celtic dolmen from Poulnabrone, Ireland. ( CC BY 2.0 )
Older than the Celtic tradition is the Norse. Dion Fortune calls it Nordic because the “purest contacts of this … tradition which are available to us in the West are those of the Nordic mythology”. She associates it with the Lower Astral Plane and indicates that the instincts and passions ruling this denser emotional sphere are transformed into heroic courage once sublimated. And as such do we know the gods and heroes from Norse mythology.