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.