Spiritual and moral values are often taught through stories and the more I delve into the wisdom that is held within the myths of the Gods, the more I recognise their value. When we read them with our mind they are mere words, but if we learn to see what lies between the lines, the wisdom and truth that is hidden beneath the words as a subtle form of consciousness, we find that even the most ferocious creatures in mythology have their place and value. No doubt, there are evil forces, but not all that is depicted as frightening and dark is necessarily bad.
In Norse mythology the giant wolf Fenrir is said to devour everything in His way, to be uncontrollable, ferocious, and He was therefore bound by the Gods to control His force. Loki pointed out to me once that His three children Fenrir, Hel and Jormungard represent aspects of Time. Considering that the fearsome wolf represents an all-devouring, uncontrollable force, Fenrir certainly represents Time who (at least in Hindu culture) is also known as the merciless devourer of all things.
It was shortly after I encountered Loki in His bound form and was given the opportunity to free Him from His fetters, that Fenrir started calling me, so I asked His father to take me to Him. Seeing the magnificant, awe-inspiring wolf in bondage, I felt overwhelmed with grief and my heart broke as I sensed His rage, His fierceness, His pain. I asked for His forgiveness before I approached Him. When I did, I was able to see Fenrir as a necessary force in creation, a child of the Goddess, no less worthy than any other creature and certainly not malicious or bad – but dangerous, especially if we fear Him. Fenrir’s beauty is just as powerful as the terror He induces. We cannot control Him, even when we try to bind Him, His force is still there only in a suppressed state. I believe that Fenrir represents a power we need to embrace and honour, not fear, if we wish to live freely.
The great Wolf allowed me to free Him by offering Him my love. And maybe because I was aware that I could not tame or control Him, He also permitted me to bind Him in a new way – through my very love for Him.
In my encounter with Fenrir, Loki showed me that there are many ways of binding creatures and while most fetters aim to control the object of bondage, there is a way that paradoxically binds in order to give freedom. The most magical amongst fetters that can bind any creature (especially God), is unconditional Love. True and unconditional Love renders any God helpless, because God Himself loves us unconditionally. This Love binds God to us – if we would only be able to realise this this world would be a happier place.
Unconditional Love does not bind in a human way, which desires to possess or control. Unconditional Love seeks to expand – it expands our heart, our existence, and allows us to become one with the object of our adoration. Thus it brings two parts together as one.
After His fetters were gone, Fenrir’s appearance changed from a giant black Wolf, filled with agony, wrath and uncontrollabe power to a gigantic, powerful and luminous Wolf with a flaming fur, who was of a radiant beauty that cannot be put into words. He adopted a human form and held me in a tender, but tight embrace for a while.
When I meditated on Him, Fenrir showed me that He embodies the realisation that our life is fleeting and every second, every single moment is forever gone if we do not use it for something meaningful. We cannot bring it back. Ever. Time wasted, is time lost. Time devours everything, without mercy. Fenrir’s force does not allow us relax or be idle, but keeps us on our toes, because in a way He is threatening to devour us at any moment. Life is fleeting. Fenrir puts that right into our face. He is also the one who encourages us to use our given time wisely.
Transcend the fear of time, transcend the fear of death and learn to seize the moment, that was Fenrir’s message.
I guess He often works together with His sister Hel as the fear of time and death is deeply engrained in living beings, yet it must be overcome if we wish to be truly free. And maybe, as long as we fear the end of our existence Fenrir must be kept bound as otherwise this fear would destroy us.
Shortly after my meditative experience with Fenrir I came across one of Shiva’s fiercest forms known as Kala Bhairava, the one who oversees the march of Time.
Kala Bhairava is a dark and terrible manifestation of Shiva that is associated with annihilation, His mount or Vahana is usually a black dog. (A vahana is a vehicle or the carrier of something immaterial and formless. All Hindu Gods and Goddesses have a Vahana). Bhairava Himself is described as merciless and fearsome, with flaming hair, and several depictions in Hindu and Buddhist culture show Him as black, with large fangs and claws – this description and the connection to a dog (or a wolf?), immediately brought Loki and Fenrir to my mind. Intrigued, I wanted to learn more about Bhairava.
Bhairava derives from the word “bhiru” (fearful, feeling great fear) and it means “terribly fearful form”. His name very nicely describes the effect Bhairava has upon those who encounter Him, and it is said that those who meet Him must confront their own fears. He is also the one who destroys fear, or who is beyond fear.
“Kala” means both time as well as the color black. In many popular folktales, Kala Bhairava roams the city of Varanasi as a black dog and He is also the one who oversees the march or flow of Time.
One of the ancient texts that describe Kala Bhairava’s teachings on Time translates as follows:
“Time is the most precious. Time lost is lost forever. Wise people should use every moment of time effectively. Lord Kala Bhairava helps everyone to make one’s time useful.”
Kala Bhairava helps us to use our time effectively on the spiritual path. The worship of Shiva in the aspect of Kala Bhairava helps one realize the transitory nature of worldly existence and make the most of the rare human birth to realize Brahman, the supreme reality.
If you insult time by idling it away, you will be cursed by Kala Bhairava. On the other hand if you worship time, even a millisecond will matter and bring you prosperity, victory and peace. As a human being you think that nothing is going to happen in one millisecond, but then the divine knows methods to change your life in a millisecond.
If you are endlessly waiting for things to happen and it never happens, this means you have offended time either in this life or previous life All that you need is a worshipful attitude towards time.
The fearsome description of Kala Bhairava is not to be misunderstood as He is not only a protector of sacred places (every Hindu temple has an idol of Bhairava), but also protector of women, especially those timid or shy in nature. It is generally believed that worshiping Bhairava gives prosperity, success and good progeny, prevents premature death and gives solution to debts and liabilities.
Bhairava is a wandering form of Shiva. There are 64 Bhairavas in all. These Bhairavas come under 8 categories. Each of these categories is headed by one major Bhairava in that particular group. These 8 Bhairavas, who guard and control the 8 directions of the universe, are as follows:
- Asithaanga Bhairava
- Ruru Bhairava
- Chanda Bhairava
- Krodha Bhairava
- Unmattha Bhairava
- Kapaala Bhairava
- Bheeshana Bhairava
- Samhaara Bhairava
All these Bhairavas are controlled by Kaala Bhairava. He is the Supreme Godhead and the ruler of the rest of the Bhairavas.
When I read about more about Shiva’s form of Bhairava, it did not escape me that His story holds similarities to the myths about Loki that describe the Trickster as an outcast to the society of the Aesir (his involvement in Baldur’s death and the Lokasenna). Even though Bhairava’s and Loki’s stories seem to have little in common at first glance, they actually bear quite a few similarities – starting with the killing of a God (Baldur/Brahma), both accounts also include the murder of a servant, becoming an outcast who is driven out into the forest, and speak of the Gods sensuous nature that seduces even the most virtuous women.
Bhairava represents a form of Shiva that is lawless. Learning about Bhairava let me understand Loki’s role as the outcast better and I decided to re-read a few passages in Dagulf Loptson’s Book “Playing with Fire” to confirm my thoughts. According to mythological texts Loki aided in the killing of the God Baldur and later shows up at a gathering of the Gods, where Loki murders a servant and as a consequence is driven out into the forest as violence is not permitted in the hall and murder considered a serious crime. On His return Loki is warned, but nevertheless He is offered drink and entry to the Hall of Aegir, where Loki subsequently “insults” the Gods in the “Lokasenna”. According to Dagulf Loptson, the battle of words that Loki instigated was a custom known as “Senna” (flyting or wrangling) by which Loki attempted to regain His statues amongst the Aesir. He would have probably won the cause, had He not been interrupted and threatened by Thor and was thus forced to leave the hall.
Keeping all this in mind and also that Loki (like Odin) is known as a wanderer or traveler between the worlds, the following story of Bhairava is shockingly similar to Loki’s – apart from the fact that Bhairava expiates His sins, while Loki is punished for His crimes and bound until the end of time.
There are variations of how Shiva adopted the form of Bhairava, a form that breaks all boundaries and conventions. All stories lead to the decapitation or death of the God Brahma/Pashupati. It is noteworthy here to mention that in older accounts it was the heavenly archer, the God Rudra (later also known as Shiva) who slayed Prajapati. Rudra is symbolised by the Star Sirius (a star also known as Lokabrenna or “Loki’s Torch”). So, is it an incident that the God Baldur (for whose demise Loki was held responsible) was also slain by an arrow?
The murder of a Brahmin (the term Brahmin signifies someone who is good and virtuous) is considered a grave sin, and even though Shiva/Rudra is a God, He has to deal with the consequences of his actions (and thus He establishes ethics and laws through His crime!). In order to expiate His sin, Bhairava became a wandering beggar, carrying Brahma’s skull as His begging bowl.
To atone for the sin of severing the god Brahma’s fifth head, Shiva is said to have separated the body of Bhairava from his own and sent it to wander with the skull of Brahma in his hand, a vow that parallels the Maha-vrata (“great vow”) that a Kapali (a skull-carrier) must undertake to dispel the sin of killing a Brahmin. The expiatory wandering punishment of 12 years is also given to a Bhrunaghna sinner—a learned Brahmin who kills another of great learning and good conduct. The vow is prescribed in the Dharmashastras, a text corpus detailing ethics and conduct. The sinner should live in an isolated place and beg in only seven houses with the skull of the slain. He must use as a staff the bones of the slain and be treated by society as an outcast.
It is told that Bhairava roamed the forest as an outcast and became known under the name Bhikshtana, the mendicant. Even though Bhairava’s form is often depicted as terrifying, Bhikshtana is described as youthful and beautiful, yet this does not keep Him from disregarding ethical or moral standards. Several South Indian poets also write about His sensous nature and women who encountered Him were love-smitten and so enamoured by His appearance that they followed Him. In some accounts He enticed women to give Him alms and seduced even the pure and chaste wives of forest sages (Loki seems to have a similar effect on Aesir Goddesses. In the Lokasenna He claims to have seduced nearly every Goddess in Aegir’s hall). Not surprisingly, Bhairava (like Loki) is also said to be cunning and somewhat deceptive.
On His wanderings Bhairava came to the God Vishnu’s abode, where He slayed Vishnu’s doorkeeper before entering Vishnu’s hall and approaching the God with His outstretched begging-bowl. Lord Vishnu deined His own Blood a suitable offering for Bhairava, but failed to fill the beggar’s bowl. He urged Him to go to the city of Kashi, where His sins will be expiated. And so it happened that when Bhairava finally reached the holy city of Kashi, Brahma’s skull fell off His hand and He was redeemed.
While many people believe that Bhairava is a violent form of Shiva, he is indeed a benevolent form to the sincere devotee. The noose in his upper left hand signifies the bonds we have in the world. Family, wealth, desires, and material objects are all things that bind a man to the world. As such, men and all other creatures bound to these objects and relationships are known as “pashu” or literally those bound by the noose. Being unclad, and having no possessions, Bhairava is known as “Pashupathi” or the Lord of those bound by the noose. Devotees who invoke Bhairava in their lives are blessed by him and receive his protection. In some households across India, a statue of either a dog or of Bhairava is installed in the garden or near the front door. Just as he protects the temple, he also protects the house from evil spirits and bad energy.