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Strength Abides…

…let there be beauty and strength, power and compassion, honor and humility, mirth and reverence within you.

—the Charge of the Goddess

What is Strength?

Charles Atlas, mid-20th cent. bodybuilder

Charles Atlas, mid-20th cent. bodybuilder

Victorian performer

Victorian performer

Strength is a quality—being strong—which may apply to individual humans or animals or objects, groups of humans or animals or objects, or even entire tribes or species or categories of objects.  Among humans, definitions of strength or strong cover a gamut of meanings, from the ability to wield ergs that move tonnes, to the inner qualities that enable humans to endure privation  and withstand hardship, to the stalwart temperaments displayed variously as stubbornness, loyalty, and tenacity. Families or tribes or entire peoples may be called strong, with any of the meanings of the term.

Strength Without

Western red cedar

Western red cedar
(Thuja plicata)

tall coast redwood

coast redwood
(Sequoia sempervirens)

Natural strength exists in the world around us, in the boles of trees, the solidity of stone, the force of floods, the vigor of wildlife, and the extremes of weather. From the Stone Age onwards, humankind has used the strength of stone in structures and tools and weapons. Flint or obsidian blades, cobble and thatch homes, slate pathways, slung stones—we value the strength of stone, just as we use its mountains and crags as landmarks for our travel.

The climax species of conifer that once comprised the backbone of the widespread coastal temperate forests of western North America (cedar and redwood) depict their own “pillars of strength.” Whether coniferous or broadleaf, mature climax forests feature such wondrous pillars, be they the pictured cedars and redwoods of western lands, or the oaks, beeches, maples, and birches of eastern ones. These sturdy columns support huge widespread foliate canopies which, astonishingly, act as solar engines to renew our air, circulate our water, distribute chemical nutrients, and shelter our wildlife.

river in flood

Scots river in flood

Greek mythology, in the Labors of Hercules, tells us how he used his strength to re-route two rivers in flood through the Augean Stables to clean them out in a single day. The “force of floods” required all his Herculean strength to manipulate, while accomplishing what even he could not perform in one day, moving a veritable mountain of manure.

Pillars of Hercules (Straits of Gibraltar)

Pillars of Hercules (Straits of Gibraltar)
View from Gibraltar lighthouse across the straits to Jebel Musa, N. Africa

Even today, the Atlantic passage to the Mediterranean Sea which we call the Straits of Gibraltar, are also known as the Pillars of Hercules, just as they were known to Phœnician traders and Greek sailors. Two mountains bracket the gap through which the Atlantic replenishes the waters of the Mediterranean, the rock of Gibraltar at the southern tip of Spain, and Jebel Musa, in Morocco at the northern tip of North Africa. Given that Hercules’ fame arose from his strength and tenacity, the Pillars of Hercules were and remain symbols of both.

Strength in the Occult

Uruz rune

Uruz rune

In the previous blog in this series, the Pillar of Strength is described as the pair to the Pillar of Beauty, with the Pillar of Wisdom between the two. Rather than repeat kabala material, let me turn to another significant strain of esoteric lore, the Norse runes. Runes, like scripts everywhere, were known only to a few at first. The art of writing was generally considered magical, or at least sacred, during its early days within any culture.

In the mythology of the Norse, Odin (often called All-Father), chief of the gods of the Norse pantheon, hung for nine days on Yggdrasil (the mythical World-Tree that connects the Norse three realms: underworld, earth, and overworld) to obtain the knowledge of the runes, or writing, and share them with his followers. These 24 runes of the futhark are both the alphabet of the Norsemen, and were—and are—used extensively for divination and in magical inscriptions. (Why futhark? because the first six runes are the letters: F, U, TH, A, R, and K. A close parallel to our word alphabet, which derives from the Greek names of the first two letters, alpha and beta.)

Aurochs bull from skeletal find

Aurochs bull reproduction from skeletal find

The Uruz rune is often known as the rune of strength: this second rune of the futhark, Uruz in the futhark of Old Norse represents the letter U, and means aurochs, the primitive giant, wild Eurasian cattle.

Aurochs, cattle, human sketch for scale

Sketch comparing bull aurochs & bull cattle
human of ~5’9″ for scale

Aurochs, especially bull aurochs, were fearsome animals, about 150% of the size of a modern beef bull, with shoulder heights of seven to upwards of nine feet. Although ancestor to modern domestic cattle (the last aurochs died in Poland in 1627 CE), aurochs were not tractable, being hunted rather than raised. 

Strength Within

Strength of mind is exercise, not rest. —Alexander Pope

Humans use strength of mind to determine our purposes.  We use our strength of will to hold constant to those purposes.   And we use our strength of body to act on those purposes. The common trait among them all—following Pope’s epigram—is the exercise of our minds to select among options consciously, to hold fast to those decisions and to select course(s) of action that make those choices come to pass. Just as the Goddess advises us to have strength within us, so do our gods advise us to choose our intent: “An it harm none, do as thou wilt.” Opt to do, or not to do, a familiar concept.

Do, or do not. —Yoda, Star Wars

Finally, there’s strength of character. Our gods also advise us to be responsible for what we do, “As thou dost give, so shall ye gain.” What goes around, comes around; equally familiar as Newton’s third law, “for every action there is an opposite reaction.” Strong characters reflect self-knowledge, own errors, redress wounds, enable trust…absolutely foundational needs for any magic worker.

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