Pagan Blog Project: B: breath The essence of Life and much more
The essence of life and much more
No real introduction to this post. I am just going to cut to the chase, This is a post I have been meaning to write for two weeks because there are essentially two key points that I wanted to make with this topic that would benefit two separate posts. One is on the origin of it’s spiritual component and the other is on a magical aid and as a trance inducing practice. Like I said both of these posts would be related in that they are both centered around the concept of breath and what it means.
One of the reasons I have both felt the need to write these posts and have been unable to complete or even begin starting these posts is that here in Maine its the middle of winter and that’s bad news for asthmatics like myself. If I am struggling to breathe properly it makes sense that while I would both be in the perfect state to explain the properties of Breath as life I am also not in the best states to think of anything but focusing on my own breath.
It is with both of these things in consideration (and the personal stress I was feeling for not posting for two weeks at this point) that I have decided to write this post. I have a lot of different sources to pull on how breath is both life and is also counted to be an aspect and an essence of the soul (though I’ll try to give enough info for you to create your own opinion). This is a wide topic so let’s start with science and the birth of a human baby and the “actual full death” of a human.
Breath in the human life cycle
After a mother has given birth to her child the doctor slaps the baby on the ass to begin crying and thus start breathing. A human is not considered alive if they are not breathing. If a baby does not cry with that action they are not alive and thus need work to be able to breathe or may be considered dead. In the elderly a person’s whole mind and spirit could be gone yet their body kept alive through food and automatic breathing considered “life support”.
The ability to breath and to have the freedom to some what control one’s breath has always been part of what makes a person alive. So long as a person is breathing and their body can “physically” function even with the support of machines a person is technically considered alive. This is a thought and a concept that has been buried deep within human cultures and thoughts for many reasons and a lot of it relates back to lore and mythology.
I mention that this has been buried deep and that would be correct. There are many different mythologies around the creation of man. There are two central themes I have found that in the creation of humanity. One is that we have been physically created out of the earth by the hands of the Gods. The other is that it wasn’t until the Gods gave us breath that we became fully alive, even if other Gods had contributed other factors to what made a human being, we were not alive until we were given breath by the Gods.
There are two examples that I can think of that support this though. . While many people may not be able to understand and accept this, when it comes to the creation and what actually brought humans to life Christians and those who follow Germanic paganism have one thing in common: The breath of life from their High God.
I’ll start with the creation myth of humans from the Poetic Edda (one of the Norse and Germanic sacred texts):”
17. Then from the throng | did three come forth,
From the home of the gods, | the mighty and gracious;
Two without fate | on the land they found,
Ask and Embla, | empty of might.
18. Soul they had not, | sense they had not,
Heat nor motion, | nor goodly hue;
Soul gave Othin, | sense gave Hönir,
Heat gave Lothur | and goodly hue.”
Here Soul is often equated with physical life. The warmth of our body and fact that it actually reflects life was the gift of Honir. Two of the elements that make humans alive were given from one deity. The abilities to make sense/understand the world is one of the gifts of the Gods. That gift was given by Honir. Finally we have Odin’s gift. Other translations list Odin’s gift last as it is not until breath and life is actually given to Ash and Embla that the first humans come to life.
As you can see from my analysis soul and breath in Germanic lore are associated. The breath of life is important. It enters our body at birth and leaves at Death. The breath can be seen as being the vessel for the soul. It enters at birth and leave on death. That s what the soul is. In some ways the soul and the mind and the breath can all be linked exactly to life. The heart starts working before the mind, and the breath.
In the book of Genisis humanity is not aware or alive until God gives them the breath of life:
5 And every plant of the field before it was in the earth, and every herb of the field before it grew: for the LORD God had not caused it to rain upon the earth, and there was not a man to till the ground.
6 But there went up a mist from the earth, and watered the whole face of the ground.
7 And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.
8 And the LORD God planted a garden eastward in Eden; and there he put the man whom he had formed.
So that is the connection in the creation of humanity. In both cultures humans were born from the earth in some form. In Christianity it’s from dust. In Germanic lore it’s from trees that we were born. In both sets of lore it is also only through the gift of the breath of life that humanity becomes aware and able to live.