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Not One Skin

Written by Paul Waggener

“In Norway and Iceland certain men were said to be eigi einhamir, not of one skin, an idea which had its roots in paganism. The full form of this strange superstition was, that men could take upon them other bodies, and the natures of those beings whose bodies they assumed. The second adopted shape was called by the same name as the original shape, hamr, and the expression made use of to designate the transition from one body to another, was at skipta hömum, or at hamaz; whilst the expedition made in the second form, was the hamför. By this transfiguration extraordinary powers were acquired; the natural strength of the individual was doubled, or quadrupled; he acquired the strengthof the beast in whose body he travelled, in addition to his own, and a man thus invigorated was called hamrammr…

Having assumed some bestial shape, the man who is eigi einhammr is only to be recognized by his eyes, which by no power can be changed. He then pursues his course, follows the instincts of the beast whose body he has taken, yet without quenching his own intelligence. He is able to do what the body of the animal can do, and do what he, as man, can do as well.” -Sabine Baring-Gould

The idea of transforming from man into beast is one that has held a deep place in the psyche of humanity worldwide since the dawn of time. Some of the oldest cave paintings in existence show animal-human hybrids, and the myths and stories of diverse peoples have told of men who could change their form, “leaping” from one to the next.

In the sagas and lore of the Germanic peoples, this was often accomplished with the aid of some kind of garment or skin, worn by men who were considered “shape changers,” sometimes synonymous with the overused term “berserker.”

It seems that nowadays everyone is a “viking,” and the use of symbols and terminologies has become nothing more than a cheap way to move product. I see endless graphics of sword wielding warriors and mead horns, branded with slogans like “DIE IN BATTLE AND GO TO VALHALLA,” often posted by individuals who look more ready to die of aggressive diabetes and go into a very large casket.

Because of this, I often wonder how deeply these myths and concepts are considered by the rank and file who are “culturally enriched,” it would seem, by a combination of bad heavy metal and a certain television show featuring male models swinging swords at one another.

At times, I have nearly succumbed to the desire to abandon any personal use of the myths and symbols of Northern Europe, due to their constant connection with groups that seem to oscillate only between the twinkie-feasting, “Odin came to me in a dream,” body acceptance, “all are one” crowd, and the “viking warlord,” Phil Anselmo lookalike types, throwing up their Sieg Heils to Odin.

At these times, it is important to remember: these symbols, myths and ideas do not belong to either crowd. They belong to those who are truly on the road of heroes, in any epoch or age. Glory hounds, warmongers, ecstatic creators of art and new legend. Those who identify with the Father of Runes not as a kindly, benevolent father in the sky nor as some hypostatic union of Hitler and Amon Amarth, but as a path to awe, a contract of fire and blood, a never-ending river of madness and inspiration that flows from someplace unseen, but felt.

To these few, the concept of hamramr can make itself clear as a shift, not in physical form, but in operating mode. It must be understood that the mythology is not to be taken literally, but to hint at greater truths that can be utilized by those with the eyes to see.

The ability to be whoever or whatever you need to be in any given situation is a powerful one. To shed one “skin” in favor of another when need arises, meeting the world with whatever mode best serves you at present, knowing your true self always, but flowing like water in action and methodology.

In the Poetic Edda, one of the many names by which Odin is known is Svipall, which has the meaning of “Ever-changing One,” or “Shape shifter.” In many of the surviving stories of him, we see him alter himself in character and seeming in order to have an advantage over others who are only able to simply “be themselves.”

How can we take this ancient myth of transformation and apply it to our lives ina vital way, and make the words “Eigi Einhamr” a powerful formula of strategy in this modern world?

Firstly, we empower ourselves in a massive way by understanding the simple and brutal truth that our honor binds us only within our peer group. That those without are not to be dealt with by the same rules as those on the “inner circle,” and can be met on the playing field with many different strategies that twist and undermine what our competitors believe the “rules” to be.

It is the height of naïveté to believe that others will operate under the same conception of honor and fair dealing that you do on a day to day level with those you have respect for. Whether we are talking about the ridiculous idea of a “fair fight” (which should only be engaged in during sport competition), social maneuvering, business dealings, or any other sort of “war” we wage, it must be known that rules are for breaking. The unexpected strike stabs deepest into the opponent’s vitals. War is for winning, and at the end of the day, it is victory that matters- all that surrounds it should be left to songs and stories, idealized or villainized by men who likely took no part in the winning or losing.

Secondly, we empower ourselves by casting aside the notion that we must remain unchanging: a pillar of stone, like a man with his feet encased in concrete block. Standing there against the ages, pitted and cragged by the winds of time, unwilling or unable to effectively flow and move with the situation.

We must be much more than this. Wanderers among the streams of consciousness, intrepid explorers on the frontier of the spiritual wilderness- one eye on our Wyrd at all times, seeing the weave made plain, each thread standing out to us as a potential cause or effect.

If we choose to meet each situation that may arise in our lives in exactly the same fashion, we will soon find ourselves outdone, outwitted and outmoded by better and smarter men. A simple example of how this “shift” can be seen in its everyday form: does one act and interact in the same fashion with competitive and brutal men as he does at home with his wife? At his son’s birthday party?
More than likely, you are already implementing this strategy on a basic level each and every day, as you slightly adjust your temperament, humor, emotional walls and so on as you flow between social groups both within and without your peer circle.

What we are talking about here is something like this, but on a more drastic and intentional scale. Being aware of these changes as they occur is the first step to understanding how they can be utilized to greater success in every area of life. Developing these different areas of self so that each one is as strong, as real, and as natural to you as the other, while retaining the sense of self identity that lies beneath is the path towards mastery.

By delving deeper into these concepts, we build a framework within which we can move and shift from one archetype to the next, with fluidity and artfulness. Who do we need to be, and why? Can we call up the beast when he is needed, and put him to rest when we are required to act as the tactful diplomat? Are we capable of moving from the violent savage to the loving husband, father, or son?

The road of the hero is one of mastery- of ourselves, of our surroundings, and of our methods and movements to achieve this. No stone should be left unturned in our search for greatness.

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Jiu Jitsu for the Kali Yuga

This article was written for Operation Werewolf by Joshua Buckley

“Jiu-jitsu is a game of death.”—Eddie Bravo

The Kali Yuga is the age of dissolution. Whether or not you accept this as a higher truth, or simply as a mythic framework for understanding our existential situation, it would be difficult not to acknowledge that our current epoch is one in which the center no longer holds. The effects can be seen in the breakdown of every social, cultural, and political institution, and in the seeming impossibility of reversing the decay. On a deeper level, one senses that something far deeper has shifted; that we have become unmoored from the higher principles that provided sustenance to our ancestors. And indeed, the Kali Yuga can be seen as a time of godlessness. Perhaps, per Nietzsche, we have murdered God, or perhaps the gods have simply turned their backs and fled. Either way, the traditional routes to transcendence that worked for our ancestors may no longer work for us. We cannot turn away from this world when the gods have already turned away from us. Instead, we must dive down deep into the depths, to harness the spiritual energies hidden within the body. The martial arts provide an ideal vehicle to achieve this—to forge our Higher Selves with the tools appropriate for the Age of Iron.

There is a long tradition of imparting various spiritual qualities to the martial arts, especially when they are viewed within an initiatory context. This is exemplified by Eugen Herrigel’s Zen in the Art of Archery but can be found as far back as Krishna’s exhortations to Arjuna on the battlefield in the Bhagavad Gita. This literature, and the philosophy that it represents, is especially relevant to those attempting to make sense of the Kali Yuga and the limitations and possibilities that it contains. I have been training as a jiu-jitsu practitioner for roughly fourteen years, and so I will limit my discussion to this particular martial art. Although I think jiu-jitsu is an excellent base for individual self-defense, it is not a complete fighting system, and it is not my purpose to argue whether or not it is superior to other styles. Neither is it my intention to tout my own abilities. My objective here is only to share a few of the insights I’ve gained from my training. If there is a specific advantage (in this context) to studying jiu-jitsu, it is that jiu-jitsu allows for consistent, high-intensity sparring against resisting opponents. Whatever lessons can be gleaned from this experience can be put to the test, again and again. The philosophical (and, I would argue, initiatory) aspects of jiu-jitsu are achieved through a synthesis of physical will and energy and what might be described as impersonal forces residing within the individual. This is the essence, or at least the rudimentary beginnings, of an approach to spiritual transformation that is still relevant in the Kali Yuga.

The first thing you will learn from training jiu-jitsu is that you are more, or less, than you think you are. One of the things jiu-jitsu players never get tired of saying is that there’s no place for “ego” in jiu-jitsu. There is nothing more satisfying than seeing someone who imagines that he’s a “bad ass” getting destroyed the first time he steps on the mat. Some people can’t handle the experience, and will give up almost immediately. Sparring will divest you of whatever illusions you have built up around yourself. (You will also quickly figure out that you can’t really judge other men simply by looking at them.) From this point on, you can begin to develop a renewed self-image that is more in line with reality. Just as you might discover that you aren’t capable of everything that you imagined you were, you will also begin to find that you are capable of things which might not have seemed possible at first. This is an essential aspect of initiation, whether you are seeking some esoteric Mystery or trying to make it through Marine Corps boot camp: you have to tear yourself down, before you can build yourself back up. However, this is a process that has no definite conclusion. No matter how hard you train, and no matter what your innate physical attributes are, there will always be someone better than you. This may be because they are more committed to training, or it might be that they are just more naturally gifted. You might also find yourself limited by factors beyond your control, such as age (at 42, I already find myself faltering against younger guys). For the purposes of self-overcoming and the forging of the Higher Self, none of this matters.

Technique prevails, when art and action are one. Jiu-jitsu (and especially “sport” jiu-jitsu) incorporates a bewildering array of techniques. This has given rise to its reputation as a particularly cerebral martial art, often described as a “game of human chess.” You will learn many, many techniques, and you may even learn them well enough that you can demonstrate them to other practitioners. However, you will find that the repertoire of techniques you can actually use in live sparring is far more limited. Some of this will be due to your own personal strengths and limitations; not every technique is suited to every practitioner. Even the techniques that you are able to make your own will require a huge amount of practice. There are positions and attacks I have drilled for years before I was able to successfully use them in a match. But here is the interesting part. Even if you have tried and failed to implement a technique in the past, the first time you hit it in live sparring, it will be yours, and you will very likely be able to rely on it from that point forward. You will internalize it to the extent that there is no gap between thinking about the technique and actually performing it. There is something truly magical about this. For those who experience its deeper meaning, it suggests the integration of intellect and action that is the hallmark of the fully actualized human being.

Closely related to this last point, but perhaps more difficult to understand, is the idea that you will achieve better results when you stop obsessing over outcomes. Just as your techniques must represent the simultaneous integration of action and will, your best fights will be those where you are able to operate almost unconsciously (readers of Herrigal will recall the Taoist concept of wu wei, or “acting without acting”). This doesn’t mean that you don’t fight to win. But as anyone who has ever tried to shoot a target can attest, the more you concentrate on the bull’s-eye, the harder it is to hit. Other athletes might describe this feeling as “flow” or being “in the zone.” In combat sports, this state is especially hard to achieve, because direct physical conflict is so stressful and emotionally loaded. In fact, it may take years before you can really spar this way, and it won’t happen every time. However, when it does, you may feel as if something beyond yourself is acting through you. This could be seen as a higher level of initiation. When Old Norse accounts describe the “berserker rage,” I believe that they are hinting at something similar. The wolf-warrior fights in a state of trance-like possession, and it is explicitly understood that what possesses him is nothing less than a god. In fact, the very name for this state of possession, wode (óðr), provides us with the name of the Allfather himself: Woden (Óðinn).

These are only a few preliminary remarks: real understanding will come only through putting in the work, and not from reading about it. Of course, similar insights can be gained from practicing other martial arts, or even from other sports requiring a high degree of discipline and sacrifice. The important thing is that we embrace the possibilities still open to us in an essentially fallen world: this is what Julius Evola would call “riding the tiger.” Very often this will involve a renewed emphasis on a conscious physicality. What the Kali Yuga dictates is that transcendence can no longer be consigned to the ethereal realms of pure intellect. The weapons of spiritual transformation must now resemble the weapons of war.