I have recently been thunderously journeying through the Edda. While I was originally skeptical about sailing through this paragon of Norse myth, the fascinating style of the poetry is most intriguing. Apparently in Norse poetry, nothing is to be referred to by its name. When the author wants to refer to gold, he will say something wonderfully complex, like the “fire of the Eel’s surging path.” The eel’s surging path is the ocean. The fire of the ocean, is a reference to an old story, where gold is used to light the halls of the ocean dwelling Ægir. Every word used in Norse poetry has a story and history behind it. Stories are linked with story upon story as more and more words are used. A section from this book cannot be pulled out by itself, it is intricately connected with other concepts. To remove one word is to pull out the veins that connect all stories together. This idea is expanded upon when it comes to personal reputation. Author and compiler Snorri Sturluson declares
“How shall a man be referred to? He shall be referred to by his actions, what he gives or receives or does. He can also be referred to by his property, what he owns and also if he gives it away; also by the family lines he is descended from, also those that have descended from him. How shall he be referred to by these things? By calling him achiever or performer of his expeditions or activities, of killings or voyages or huntings, or with weapons or ships. And because he is a trier of the weapons and doer of the killings, which is the same thing as achiever.”
To invoke the name of a person is to invoke the personality and deeds of a person, their soul. If I declare the name of Cromwell, the name itself may stir in you powerful emotions. For some, the name of Cromwell is a name of stark terror, reminding them of violent atrocities in Ireland and Scotland. Indeed the name of Cromwell holds little mercy. But for others, the name of Cromwell tells of passion and moral uprightness. To invoke the name of someone is to invoke the soul of that person. To speak the name of Han Solo is to invite the swaggering smuggler into the conversation, to offer him a seat, and hear his opinion. But not only does a name call forth the soul, it calls forth the stories of the soul. When I call upon the name of King Arthur, I am calling out the joy of Camelot, the betrayal of Lancelot, and the hatred of Mordred. I am reminding all of the beauty of Guinevere and the hope of Arthur’s return. This dread invocation is both awesome and terrible. A name communicates far more than the denotative meaning. A name communicates an idea. It summons the mind to bold adventures with little regard. We have a responsibility not to abuse our invocations. Overuse of these souls is not something to be taken lightly. We need to understand that once we reference these people, there is no going back. The tone will be set, and it will not be easily shaken. This leads us to another question. What tone does our name set? Were someone to say our name, what will that do to the conversation? What stories, ideas, and emotions will be stirred?