Obstacles

[This story takes place between The Mage and The Shifter.]

“It is not working!” Cassie yelled, breaking the spell. She picked up one of the rune stones in front of her and threw it. It was part of a set Ice had given her to help her study the runes and get comfortable with them.

He looked at his pupil with a mixture of sympathy and irritation. “Do not throw them.”

She turned toward him. “I cannot feel them the way you said I would! There is no magic!”

It was an effort to stop himself from yelling back. “You are already familiar with the runes, you just need . . .”

“No, I am not!”

“Yes, you are. When we first met, you used some runes, do you remember?”

“When?”

“You put them on your parents’ pyre.”

“Those? They were just traditional symbols.”

“Do you know what they mean?”

“We just put them there so that the souls of the departed make it safely to the next world.”

“The first rune was protection. The second means journey. And the last one stands for joy. You already have a connection with . . .”

“I do not want to talk about this anymore.” She stood and ran from the room while tears streamed down her cheeks.

Ice picked up one of the stones and absentmindedly rubbed it between his fingers. He wanted to go after the girl, scold her for leaving, but he could almost hear Krina admonishing him not to, reminding him of his failures when he had taken her on as an apprentice.

Perhaps he was not meant to instruct others. The girl did have a natural talent for the runes, but the memory of her parents seemed to serve as an obstacle. There was something else, as well, some other power in her, the reason that the Terrgat had sought her in the first place. However, he had been unable to identify it. Perhaps that power, whatever it was, prevented her from touching the magic of the runes.

As much as he wanted to push her past these obstacles, the memory of his missteps with Krina gave him pause and undermined his own self-confidence. Maybe he should not teach Cassie. Yet, she needed some means to protect herself. If he could not teach her his magic, he needed to find a way to unlock her own power. If he did not, she would be vulnerable the next time the Terrgat came for her.

Laguz (Flow), Reversed

After he finished inscribing the runes in the circle, he stood and looked at the black cat standing next to him.

“This will not work.” The cat’s mouth hadn’t moved, but its voice was clear.

“Your disapproval has already been noted.”

“I am not sure that it has. You are still doing it.”

“I need to find her.”

“Yes, but this is not the way.”

“You are the most contrary familiar I know.” 

“I am the only familiar you know.”

“Still. You have the image of her firmly in mind?”

Nothing but indignation came from the cat.

“Fine. We begin.”

Drawing on the runes for guidance, he began to probe the boundary between worlds to look for an opening. When he found one, he pushed on it. The hole resisted, but once he made a crack, he formed braces to maintain and widen it. Then he touched his familiar’s mind and found the picture of his friend. Placing it before the opening, he began drawing energy through the hole and focusing it into the image. If he was right, this should draw her to him, pulled by the force of her likeness. 

The flow of energy crackled in the air around him as the temperature of the air rose. He felt like he might explode from the raw power and tried to shunt it away even while drawing more. Abruptly, the image disappeared with a loud bang, and the spell collapsed.

“What happened?” His breathing was ragged. Looking down, he saw his familiar had collapsed. For a moment, he couldn’t detect any sign of life, then he noticed a slight rise and fall in the cat’s side.

“I . . . I told you it would not work.”

“Quiet.” He immediately dropped to his knees to try to determine the nature and severity of the injuries, but there was too much residual energy interfering with his magical senses. “Can you tell how bad it is?”

“Shall I answer the question? Or stay quiet?”

“It can’t be too bad if you can still make jokes.”

“It is bad. But I will live. Get me away from here.”

Gently, he picked the cat up and carried it to the next room. After laying it down on some cushions, he asked, “Is there anything I can do?”

“Yes. Next time, listen to me.”

Mannaz and the Othering of God

Mannaz. The Divine Self. The aspect of the divine that resides within each of us. Split down the middle vertically, it contains Wunjo – Joy – on the left, and it’s mirror on the right. The Self is made of complexity.

When we other God – see God as external, as separate from ourselves – we deny our own divinity. We denigrate humanity and relegate the best parts of ourselves to something else.

Saint Augustine exemplifies this position very clearly. Human beings are so mired in sin and evil that we cannot choose the good without God’s grace. Unless God grants us a helping hand, we cannot even want to do good.

Thus if the Shadow is – according to Jung – those parts of ourselves that we deny in order to be acceptable to society, then the external God is where we place our highest ideals, the best parts of ourselves. Perhaps we do this because even though we deny our Shadow, we still feel the guilt and shame of it and refuse to believe we are good. Perhaps it is more superficial than that, that we are taught from a very early age that God is good, that all goodness comes from God, and that we are unworthy of God’s love (though God loves us anyway). Between the Shadow and God, it’s a wonder that there is anything left of us at all.

Gandhi explained that returning violence for violence was not human nature, but animal nature. Refusing to meet violence with violence did not make us divine; instead, it makes us more fully human. The import of this cannot be overstated. If we place nonviolence within the divine, and then treat the divine as other, we have an excuse to be violent. By othering the divine, we give ourselves license to live as less than. We are “only human,” after all, as though being only human is not, itself, a stunning thing.

When we acknowledge the divine within, we eliminate our excuses for not living as our best selves. We take full ownership and responsibility for our actions. What’s more, we must acknowledge the divine in others. When we see human beings as less than, when we other God, we license, not only our own shortfalls, but also mistreatment of others. If you are just human, my treatment of you is only important as far as it accords, or doesn’t, with God’s will. If you are divine – as am I – then I need no outside reason to justify showing you respect and kindness. You are important in your own being. If God is other, then you are insignificant.

Mannaz, then, is a reminder of who we are, not just ourselves, but everyone. We are, each of us, divine. We should act like it and treat others accordingly.

Cut Off

He sat cross-legged in the grass. His knees complained only a little, which, given his age, was remarkable. Briefly closing his eyes, he summoned frost on the grass to encircle him. The flames that most used for such a ritual had always eluded him, but the frost was an adequate substitute, and a more appropriate one at that.

The sun was setting on his left as he drew forth a small bag from the folds of his robe. With a practiced gesture, he cast the runes on the ground in front of him. Closing his eyes so as to better feel them, he passed his hand slowly over the spot they lay.

But they weren’t there. He opened his eyes in surprise, and saw the stones right where he had cast them. He simply couldn’t feel their magic. They were inert. Quickly gathering the stones and placing them back in the bag, he cast them again. Once more, they were invisible to him.

Closing his eyes once more, he summoned a blizzard. When he looked, only a handful of snowflakes fell before giving up entirely. The frost making up the circle had already begun to melt.

The magic was still inside him; he could feel it. But he couldn’t access it, as if it were sealed behind a barrier. A sense of vulnerability began to overwhelm him. Nothing like this had ever happened to him. To any mage, as far as he knew. There must be some solution, but until he found it, he couldn’t count on magic to save him.

Isa – Standstill

One casts runes in the same way one casts dice, with much the same implications. If you believe in Fate, the runes were fated to land where and how they did. Reading them is reading Fate itself, fully aware of all the pitfalls that go along with that.  However, if one does not believe in Fate, but in Luck, then the casting of the runes puts you entirely within Her domain. She may give knowledge and insight, or She may take away hope. The only way to know which is to play.

I lean to the latter view, though maybe talk of Luck takes it too far. Then again, maybe not. There is no reason to anger a divine-like being who might exist. Still, I have never seen any evidence of Fate. Or at least, I have seen no point in believing in It. If Fate exists, our beliefs do not matter. And if It does not exist, why believe at all?

In front of me was a single rune from my casting. A straight vertical line, a rune which cannot be reversed. And yet Isa was always reversed. It represents a freeze in activity, a standstill. It requires letting go of something that prevents progress. It is a lone person, in the cold, trying to drag something too heavy. In order to move forward, in order to get to safety, the burden needs to be released no matter how important it seems.

Unless one enjoys the cold. That is Fate’s problem, It cares not a whit for individuals. It assumes we all want the same things. The cold is my home, and I can move freely in it. Perhaps Luck, if She is real, intended to freeze my pursuers so that I could escape. That is how I chose to understand this casting, at least at that moment.

Trapped

With a practiced hand, he drew a large circle with chalk and inscribed several runes within it, two for strength, three for protection. It was not sufficient; it never was. But it was all there was time for. Taking his place inside, he mumbled a few syllables under his breath and the lines began to glow.

The door swung open with some force, and a man stepped through. “On your feet, mage!” It seemed obvious he had practiced that.

“No.” Ice allowed himself a tiny smile.

The Terrgat drew his sword. “Get up, or I will run you through right here.”

“You intend to do that anyway. I have no interest in making it easier for you.”

As if that had been the sign he was waiting for, the Terrgat thrust his sword towards Ice. It glanced off of the barrier he had erected.

“I have studied that medallion you wear. It protects against magic cast directly at you, but it does not let you circumvent barriers. You cannot touch me.”

After a few more swings, the Terrgat appeared to accept Ice’s claim. He sheathed his blade and glared at the mage. “So you are protected in there. But for how long? I will wait. You cannot escape.”

Ice said nothing; he simply watched the man pace about the room. The Terrgat had a point about being tramped, but his impatience was evident. How long would he be willing to wait for Ice to lower his barrier?

Only a few minutes went by before he spoke again. “Why delay this? Are you hoping to be rescued? By whom? End this now.”

“I think I will stay right here.” Ice decided to try to force the issue. “But it is rather warm in here. Perhaps you would be willing to open the window?”

“No, I…” He caught himself up short. “That is a good idea.” The Terrgat left the room and returned quickly with a lit log from the fire in the public room. He tossed it on the bed. “Perhaps you are safe from my sword. But if heat still bothers you, you may want to come out now.” He stood smirking, pleased with his own cleverness.

Ice smiled again. “Do you know me?”

“Just another mage that people need to be protected against.”

“Well, I suppose you are correct after a fashion, but I am not just any mage.”

The flames had gotten higher and begun to spread, engulfing the entire bed. The Terggat was beginning to look worried. “If you are not eager to be burned alive, you should come out now.”

“I will be fine. But I think your medallion will offer you little protection.” The room was fully ablaze now. Ice could tell that the heat was nearly unbearable; only his magic kept his small circle safe. Fire magic had always eluded him, but it was a simple matter to protect against mundane heat. “Perhaps you should go now.”

The Terrgat scowled at him, but the fire was already pushing him out of the room. His departure  was timely, for the room itself was beginning to come apart. With his would be captor gone, Ice cast a version of his heat ward that would travel with him.  While the Terrgat was explaining the situation to the owner and trying to clear out the inn, Ice was able to sneak out the window and into the night.

Teiwaz – Warrior Self

The rune is a simple arrow pointing up.  It signals the spiritual warrior, the energy of such a warrior.  Thus did it become, in my mind, the warrior self.  In this sense, we are all spiritual warriors.  We all do battle with the self.

The hardest fight is with the self.  Overcoming your impulses and your own doubt is the only challenge that really matters.  Wrestling with God is easy by comparison.  There is nothing anyone can do to you, not even God, that can be more hurtful than what you can do to yourself.  You know your biggest fears, your deepest doubts, more thoroughly than anyone else does.  You know them from the inside and can use them against yourself in ways others cannot even fathom.

It is a solitary struggle.  Try as hard as you might, you cannot escape yourself.  And all the help others offer can do nothing about the nagging worry your inner self can bring to bear in opposition to you.  At 3 AM you have no one else to help you fight for yourself.

Even if you win, the challenge is always waiting in the wings to be rejoined.  Every setback risks an “I told you so.”  And yet, without the fight, without the willingness to wrestle with the self, what is left?  What else would we have?

Life is about pushing forward, about bringing something from nothing.  We begin as nothing and struggle to make something.  It is against the self that we must work.  Though we fail, it may be enough to know that at least we did not give up.