Mastering Water: The Nine Undines

excerpt from Wyrdwalkers: Techniques of Northern-Tradition Shamanism

Winter fjordAs part of my northern-tradition shamanic training, I am required to master the elements. By "master", as I explained in my article on mastering elements, I do not mean waving my oh-so-wizardly arms and commanding the forces of nature to do my bidding. Yeah, right. Like that's going to happen. In this case, "mastery" is less about mastering a slave and more about mastering the means that one has a reasonably thorough understanding of the element, and can work with its energies magically in a competent way.

In the past several years, I've managed to do Air (pretty well) and Fire (barely), and I am making long slow progress with Earth. It actually seems appropriate that it is long and slow. However, I hadn't even begun to touch Water. It is my weakest point. I had no idea where even to begin. I got the feeling that there was some cosmic glaring going on in my direction at my procrastination, and so I asked for help. Help, please. Someone, anyone, show me where to go with this.

I realize that Water takes many forms, and that for some people, such asking might be answered by the spirits of lakes and rivers and streams, of fresh water. Perhaps their lessons might even be different. (I would also strongly point out that this is just as valid and useful a way of learning about Water.) However, for me it apparently had to be the sea. I have always been drawn to the ocean, and I am incapable of living more than two hours from the coast. When the call was answered, it was the Nine Waves, the nine daughters of the sea god and goddess Aegir and Ran, who answered.

I was told that they would not come to me; that I would have to come to them. I was told that I would have to make nine separate appointments at nine separate beaches, and that they would not wait very long, so it had better be scheduled soon. I printed out a map of the New England coastline and pendulum-dowsed over it, marking out the places where the pendulum went crazy. Then I enlarged the map - thank goodness for online map programs! - and discovered that they were in fact beach points, many of which I'd never heard of.

I went to the first beach with my wife Bella - she'd heard that it was Monomoy Island and wanted to come with me and fish - and then did the other eight a month later, in one long six-day marathon that nearly blew my head apart with the intensity of one lesson after another, one spirit after another moving through my brain and body....and I ended up with nine important pieces of understanding about the nature of Water, and nine power songs that I have chronicled here.

The thing that stands out to me, in the after-period when I try to put words to what I've learned, is that so many modern elemental-magic systems emphasize water as the kindest, most loving, and even most passive element. Water is healing and flowing and yielding and all that, right? The lessons that the Nine Ladies taught me were quite the opposite. They were the embodiment of the Great Water, not the small water that we separate out for our own uses, that we make safe. They were the sea that eats people, the water that drowns you, dashes you against the rocks, takes you down. They were Water with Attitude. We tell each other our pretty little fantasy stories about how lovely Water is, but the deep truth is that when there is enough of it in one place, it is every bit as dangerous as fire, and perhaps more so. Each of the Nine Ladies had that quality of danger about her, whether up-front and obvious or more subtle. They all had teeth and claws. Behind the lesson of what they were trying to teach me was another, more pervasive message. I could eat you. If I wanted to, I could drag you down and take your life, not out of malice, but because it is in my nature to do that. Ocean's embrace of us always intends to be fatal, whether we slip through her fingers or not.

This was underlined by my problems with finding the proper offerings. I tried to give them home-brewed beer or mead, in little bread bowls that I'd handcrafted myself, but they didn't want that. What they wanted was blood. I discovered this accidentally with the first visitation, and afterwards I went to the ocean with a bag of diabetic stickers and gave each of them (except Hevring) a few drops of blood. I don't know whether it was the salt water or their good wishes, but the pricks on my fingers were fully healed and invisible in a matter of hours after I shed each offering.

For information about theses spirits, including accounts of my first interactions with them, poems, prayers, and songs, see the Nine Sister's Shrine.

One note on the power songs: I asked the Nine Ladies whether these were for public consumption and could be used by people other than myself. While they didn't seem to mind the idea, they emphasized that the songs were a gift from Them, and in order for them to work for someone else, that person would have to go out and make offerings to Them, to form some kind of a relationship with Them. These are to be used only with their express permission. I do not know if this will mean driving to the coast and talking to them in person (which I realize would be more difficult for people living inland) or if they will be satisfied with some other form of contact. That's up to you and them.