What we bind

I have been listening to the Skald song “Gleipnir” on repeat in the car.

Gleipnir was the third chain made to bind the Fenris wolf. It was made by the sons of Ivaldi from the stomping of cats, the beards of women, the roots of mountains, the spit of birds, the breath of fishes and the nerves of a bear.

An impossible list of ingredients, and it was so fine that the Fenris wolf laughed when he saw it. Having already broken through two chains he was confident that this last would be no problem.

He was wrong, and is bound by Gleipnir until Ragnarok.

As I listen I have been thinking about what we bind.

The binding of women’s feet to keep them small and delicate and Viola binding her breast to appear as a man in Twelfth Night.

In the charismatic church I attended as teen it was common practice to bind “demons” to prevent them causing further harm. We were taught we had the power to command them, to cast them out.

In magical practice binding is considered shadow magic. It involves work on the will of another, and it is said you should not bind unless your cause is just. What you send to others will return to you.

Binding restricts, limits, masks, hides, restricts, retains, contains, constrains.

It brings an echo of The Devil card, with figures chained, or, in the Gaian Tarot of the Bindweed card.

Bindweed is a perennial nuisance here in Kent. The roots, some say, extending as far into the earth as the bottom of wells. It emerges quickly and strangles plants, using their strength to support it as it climbs and smothers. This makes me think about the ways in which behaviours and habits, cultural patterns and “norms” slide into our subconscious, and the depth of the roots, twining back through history, suffocating, using the strength of others to grow strong.

With this image I think of the binding of slaves throughout history, chained and shackled; this is now technically illegal across the globe but still a feature of modern life in many countries.

I think of the Atlantic slave trade from the sixteenth to nineteenth centuries. I think of the “othering” which becomes normalised in order to justify practices which enslave and use other humans as tradeable goods.

I think of the wealth that grew out of this trade that has enabled my country and others to build their developed world. I think of the benefits this has brought to me, because I am caucasian.

I think of the unearned wealth of opportunity and privilege I gain from the colour of my skin.

I feel for the first time the threads which bind my mind in cultural assumptions, the lack of understanding, despite my liberal, educated, well-meaning views.

I think of the shadows I have permitted to keep myself comfortable.

The skeletons of millions in the collective closet of Western culture.

There is much to learn and it is already late.

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