This article was originally published in Issue 3 of the “The Inner Circle,” Operation Werewolf’s official monthly e-publication, and is available in that print collection HERE
MANNAZ AND MANTRA
Most who are aware of my work are similarly aware of my interest in runes, both on a linguistic and historical level, as well as their application as a sort of psychological wrench- a mental and spiritual tool used for specific and repeatable purpose.
Before we continue, because of language limitations and misconceptions, it is necessary to define what I mean when I use the word “spiritual:”
“In its simplest terms, when we use this word, we will be referring to the intangible thing within man which can be seen as the seat of his character, emotions, and connection with the unseen world around him. Also, his will, and other such unquantifiable concepts that man has felt, interacted with, and experienced, knows to be real, but cannot show in a physical form- but certainly can see the effects of.
Just as we cannot see “love” as anything beyond an assortment of chemicals in the brain, but can witness it in a mother’s devotion to her son, or a man’s to his wife; just as we cannot see “will” as chemical combination or a physical form, we can witness it in the determination of a mountain climber, a monk setting his body on fire, or even someone resisting the addiction of cigarettes or narcotics- we cannot see the “soul” or “spirit” of a man, or his “character,” but we can see the change they create in the world about him.”
Just as this term ‘spiritual’ is representative of an intangible, the runes themselves are intangibles, gigantic conceptual glaciers and mountains- titanic architectures of thought and experience that have become inseparable from my worldview through long use.
A rune, simply put, is a letter in an alphabet- but it is so much more than this in the same way that the ocean is different from a glass of salt water.
One of the runes tattooed on my body is a large “Mannaz” on my right bicep.
Mannaz is a word from the theoretical proto Indo-European language, from which the word “man” is derived, denoting man as a collective, “mankind,” and also the individual himself. Some scholars make the connection between *mannaz and the root words *men- (to think, as in, “mentality”), connecting the idea of man defining himself as a “thinker,” or a being of consciousness and thought.
The Sanskrit word (a language that comes from the same root) manas has shaped my understanding of the Mannaz rune in many crucial ways, and whether or not linguistic scholars accept or deny the etymological connection between “man” and “mind,” the philosophical connection remains.
Manas is one of the four parts of the mind in Hindu thought, representing the faculty that with the help of the sensory organs, receives information from the world around us and presents it to the intellect.
It is the instinctive mind, as well as the individualizing principle that allows man to see himself as an individual, separate from the collective. It is the seat of desire, as well, that undisciplined aspect of self that creates and moves us toward actions for the sake of satiating ourselves in some way or another.
It is divided into two parts, the “buddhi manas” and the “kama manas” which refer to the “higher mind” and the “lower mind,” another idea that has resonated strongly with me and been discussed often in my writing. Even in the shape of the *Mannaz rune, we can see two separate vertical lines “communicating” with one another with a kind of “wiring” that goes from one to the other and crosses in the center, creating a pictogram of balance, interconnectedness, and exchange.
The rune itself also indicates the idea of man in his highest potential- what he is ultimately capable of if he is performing at the greatest level possible through training the lower mind to be ruled by the higher mind. One of the techniques through which this can be encouraged is that of mantra.
The word itself connects to the subject at hand, and is a Sanskrit word made up of the root, manas, and the suffix -tra, denoting a tool or instrument. Taken together, a “mind tool,” or “instrument of consciousness.”
In the runic tradition, formulas are created from various runes, and sung in a practice called “galdr,” which refers to the vocal nature of it, often seemingly gibberish words strung together for an initiatic meaning that only reveals itself through the repetition of the galdr.
Mantra refers to this same practice, and by its definition, was seen as a tool for training the mind in a certain direction, or to change the thought process by controlling it in a specific way.
In short, one way of looking at mantra is words and sounds designed to produce something in one’s mind. What that something is depends on the mantra itself, as well as the individual’s intention. Applying this to our personal practice is an incredibly powerful method of quite literally altering our brains and consciousness in a similar way to how the body is shaped and altered during deliberate physical training.
The study of neuroplasticity has proven that brain activity is changed through practices such as mediation, but also that physical changes occur in the brain itself through training it via these “instruments of thought.”
We also know that physical exercise produces an increase in grey matter volume in multiple regions of the brain, proving that what we do, and the activities we engage in, alter the very seat of our cognitive abilities.
Scientists have also proven that when we think or feel a certain way, neurons fire together, connect and begin to create a “neurological pathway.” The first time we think to ourselves “I am weak, I can’t do this,” for example, we can see it as walking through an untamed frontier, a difficult and arduous journey from one place to another, cutting through undergrowth and foliage, fording rivers, ultimately arriving at our destinations as trailblazers.
The second time, a beaten path begins to appear, and the river fords are built into bridges. By the hundredth time, roads are being built, and train track is being laid, until some time in the future, flying cars are smoothly navigating the highways at blink of an eye speeds.
What this means is that the more times we give in to a negative thought or emotion, self-defeating internal talk, a difficult workout makes us quit- we are making it easier for ourselves to do or feel that in the future. This is not some white-light, hippie talk. This is scientific fact- the more we perform an action, but more importantly, think a thought, we cast a vote for more of the same. We lay down an infrastructure to build up that area of our brain.
This is why it becomes so vitally important for us to train to control our emotional responses to things early and often. Habits become difficult to break, modes of thinking or dealing with our problems become such monumental tasks, because we have spent years building that “muscle” in our mind, until we are fighting a 300 pound sumo wrestler each time we try to not fly off the handle when we can’t find our phone (something I’ve been guilty of many times!).
This is where mantra comes in. Developing the correct neurological pathways means treating the brain as a muscle and applying the same principles here that we would in the gym, or on the mats. Repetitive, consistent, correct training to achieve results. My jiu jitsu coach is fond of saying “practice doesn’t make perfect, practice just makes habit. Perfect practice makes perfect.”
We can’t just throw ourselves into something haphazardly, we need an organized training routine. My suggestion is that you start simple. There’s no need to learn another language, or pick up an entirely new verbiage in order to get started- although the study of language, traditional mantra and galdr is certainly a rewarding endeavor. Instead, begin by identifying a specific aspect of yourself that you are looking to get control over.
In simple terms, this could be a lack of discipline getting out of bed in the morning, or a habit of losing your temper easily. You will create (and keep to yourself, for now), a mantra that identifies this by applying a positive approach. It could be something as simple as, “I am in control of myself and my emotions. My temper is a product of my lower self, and I am its master. I am calm, rational, and powerful.”
There isn’t a need for flowery words or poetics, although if this helps you connect with the process, by all means, go for it. What we are looking to achieve here is the creation of small, simple tool to begin creating the pathway in your mind in a direction that will prove corrective for the problem you are dealing with.
While you recite your mantra, you will also keep firmly in mind that each time you master your temper, you are building a habit. Each time you give in, you are doing the same. If you master it next time, applying your mantra, being in control, calm, cool, powerful, and so on, you are weakening the neurological pathway that is lit up when your temper flares. By doing it time after time, each success makes it less likely that you will lose your temper next time.
Success is a habit, as surely as anything else. We create it through developing a practice.
You can apply these ideas in your creation of personal mantras and “words of power,” that you can begin to see as tools- the kettle bells and barbells of the consciousness, affecting change there just as certainly as in all other forms of our training, *mannaz and mantra working together to build a complete human in the image we have chosen.