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The Fourfold

5,632 words

French translation here

1. Introduction

This is the first of two essays dealing with the Germanic cosmology. Only in the second essay will I actually discuss the details of that cosmology, as presented in the Eddas and other sources, and offer an interpretation of it.

The present essay is an attempt to provide a “way into” that cosmology. Why do we need such a way? Because my aim is not simply to inform my readers about the Germanic worldview; there are countless books that summarize it in greater detail than I will go into. My aim is actually to believe in that worldview as far as I possibly can. In other worlds, my aim is to see the world as my ancestors did. Needless to say, the way our ancestors saw the world is radically different from how we moderns do – to the point where it is tempting to say that, in a certain sense, we live in different worlds entirely. A way into (or back into) the Germanic cosmology is a way back into the world of our ancestors. But the first step in this is to understand what a world is.

“World” is, in fact, not the same thing as “cosmos,” from which we derive “cosmology.” Kosmos is a Greek word that simply means “order.” It refers to the totality of what is, understanding it as an orderly arrangement. (Latin mundus – meaning roughly “elegant” – is simply a translation of kosmos.) “World,” however, comes from Old English weorold. It is a compound of wer, which means “man” (as in “werewolf”), and eald, which means “age.” So that, oddly, “world” literally means “age of man” or “man age.”[1]

What are we to make of this strange, literal meaning of our common term “world”? First of all, the meaning of the term has clearly shifted over time. “World” is used today to denote the planet earth, as when we say that the world contains no more than seven continents. It is also sometimes used to mean the same thing as “universe” (a Latin-derived term). But the first usage is much more common. You don’t often hear people say “the world is infinite.” We tend to use “world” to mean what we ourselves are living in (or on), and universe to mean the larger context that contains our world, and other worlds. This is implicit in the language used to refer to space travel, whether what is being discussed is science fact or fiction: “to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations . . .” The universe is thought to contain worlds. At least superficially, this certainly seems in keeping with how our ancestors spoke of “nine worlds.”

But if we keep thinking about how “world” is used we will realize that while most people would insist that it is simply a synonym for “planet earth,” there is actually more to it than this. Consider the following. Someone confronts an unrealistic person with the question “what world are you living in?” Or responds to their unreasonable expectations with “not in this world.” Or prefaces a comment with “in the real world . . . .” In these cases “world” is essentially being used as a synonym for “reality.” But consider the subtle difference in the following cases. An adult tries to teach a child a lesson by saying “in this world you don’t get something for nothing,” or “in this world it’s every man for himself,” or “it’s a man’s world.” Here “world” is really being used to mean “human world,” or “human reality.”

Clearly, these sorts of cases show that there is more to the meaning of “world” than our big ball hurtling through space. And we begin to get some glimmer of what “world” originally meant for our ancestors. The world is not the earth. It is the earth as encountered and interpreted by us. Our world is not merely our physical surroundings, for what surrounds us is not merely “the physical.” What surrounds us is the physical earth and its features (including its flora and fauna) as understood, interpreted, valued, and disvalued by us. As a simple example, consider gold. If we ask what gold is it would be quite wrong to say “gold is simply a chemical element with the atomic number 79.” Gold is much more to us than this. In fact it is has tremendous significance in our lives. We value it for its beauty and its scarcity. Men have died for gold, and whole civilizations have been conquered in order to acquire it. We associate gold with royalty, and with popes.

Of course, gold has this significance for us because of certain social conventions we have established. Gold is not valuable “in itself,” but only for us. If all human beings were wiped away tomorrow, gold would have absolutely no value at all. But so long as we are around, the value that gold has is as real to us as its atomic number. That value is part of “the world.” And the “social conventions” that establish such values are part of the world also. They are quite real to us, and they stem from unalterable qualities of the human species. “The world” is a human world, in human time. We live in “man age.” Things never present themselves to us “as they are in themselves,” but only as interpreted by us in relation to ourselves, within the total context of human biological and social reality.[2]

“World” is therefore an intersection of various factors, some tangible and others intangible, some existing independently of human knowers and some not. Now, as I said earlier it is plausible up to a point to say that we live in a different world from that of our ancestors. However, these worlds overlap. For instance, the natural world has not completely changed since the time of our ancestors. To be sure, some species (including, for example, the aurochs) have gone extinct, and temperatures are rising. But in many ways we still live in the same basic physical surroundings. However, our interpretation of those surroundings and how we locate ourselves within them has changed radically.

The only way, therefore, to truly understand the cosmology of our ancestors is to attempt to enter back into their world: their way of interpreting what surrounded them. My ultimate aim here is to be able to stand on the earth and see it and feel it as my ancestors did. In order to accomplish this, we need to enter more deeply into the concept of a world and achieve a profound understanding of the most basic factors that intersect in order to create a world for us. For this purpose, Martin Heidegger will prove to be our most valuable guide.

After the Second World War, Heidegger began to produce a series of essays setting forth a phenomenological description of human “dwelling” (a technical term in Heidegger’s philosophy, to which we will return in a moment).[3] This description involves four inseparable moments or aspects: earth, sky, divinities, and mortals. The essays that deal with this “fourfold” include “What are Poets For?” (Wozu Dichter?, 1946), “The Thing” (Das Ding, 1950), “Language” (Die Sprache, 1950), “Building Dwelling Thinking” (Bauen Wohnen Denken, 1951), and “Poetically Man Dwells” (“…dichterisch wohnet der Mensch…,” 1951). An earlier essay, “The Origin of the Work of Art” (Der Ursprung des Kunstwerkes, 1935–1936), discussed the opposition of earth to world. As we shall see, “world” is constituted through the fourfold of earth (die Erde), sky (der Himmel), divinities (die Göttlichen), and mortals (die Sterblichen). All these essays have been translated into English and are anthologized in the volume Poetry, Language, Thought (1971).

Implicitly, Heidegger’s analysis of dwelling is anti-modern. Although he never says this, in fact he is not describing the way in which men dwell upon the earth today. He is describing a way of being that is traditional and, for all intents and purposes, pre-modern. But he does not make this plain. Thus, while Heidegger never offers his discussion of dwelling as anything more than purely descriptive, it is implicitly normative and constitutes a clear rebuke to modern life.

Heidegger’s discussion of the fourfold also has a pagan subtext. As he does elsewhere, Heidegger (who was raised a Catholic) employs the language of polytheism, referring to “divinities” and “gods.” I am not actually suggesting that Heidegger was some kind of pagan. Like Nietzsche, he believes that a return to older forms is impossible. But also like Nietzsche his nostalgia for those older forms is readily apparent. Thus, while Heidegger’s account of the fourfold should not be described as in any way “neo-pagan,” it certainly lends itself to neo-pagan purposes. And it is useful for our purpose here: trying to find our way back into the world of our ancestors.

In what follows I will be drawing upon Heidegger’s account of the fourfold, but freely adapting and expanding it for my own purposes. (Those interested in knowing where Heidegger’s ideas end and where mine begin should read Poetry, Language, Thought.)

2. Earth and Sky

Let’s begin with the concept of dwelling (Wohnen). In “Building Dwelling Thinking,” Heidegger points out that the verb bauen (to build) is a development of the Old High German buan (a word that also exists in Old English). However, what buan originally meant was “to remain, to stay in a place.” “The real meaning of the verb bauen, namely, to dwell, has been lost to us,” Heidegger writes.[4] Further, Heidegger links buan to the verb “to be.” Buan derives from the Indo-European root bheu, as do a number of words that denote being in English and German (and other Indo-European languages). Examples include German bin (I am), bist (you are), and English be, been (and Old English beo, bið, beoð).

“To be” is thus “to dwell.” Heidegger writes: “ich bin, du bist means: I dwell, you dwell. The way in which you are and I am, the manner in which we humans are on the earth, is Buan, dwelling. To be a human being means to be on the earth as a mortal. It means to dwell” (PLT, 147). And later in the same essay: “Dwelling . . . is the basic character of Being in keeping with which mortals exist” (PLT, 160).

So what is dwelling? To put it simply, dwelling is what mortals do on earth, under the sky, and in relation to the gods. And in dwelling, they bring forth a world. Of course, this only makes matters more enigmatic, so let us take each element in turn. First, let is consider the meaning of the earth.

Mortals (and we will turn to exactly what that means in a moment) dwell on earth. But the earth is not a “planet.” We do not experience ourselves as dwelling on a ball. The earth is the ground beneath our feet, spreading out about us as far as the eye can see or the foot can tread, without limit. The earth is that from which all the things around us have emerged. Plant life is obviously earth-born, but so in some sense are the animals and ourselves. All are tied to earth, and all are sheltered and nourished by it. Heidegger writes:

The Greeks early called [the] emerging and arising in itself and in all things phusis. It clears and illuminates, also, that on which and in which man bases his dwelling. We call this ground the earth. What this word says is not to be associated with the idea of a mass of matter deposited somewhere, or with the merely astronomical idea of a planet. Earth is that whence the arising brings back and shelters everything that arises without violation. In the things that arise, earth is present as the sheltering agent. [PLT, 42]

And I would add: we feel ourselves tied to the earth in the deepest part of ourselves. The part we call “the biological,” which we do not choose and over which we have only limited control. It connects us physically and psychologically to the earth, and to its flora, fauna, and cycles of generation and corruption.

But to speak of man living on earth is to speak simultaneously of his living under the sky. (Heidegger again and again emphasizes the inseparability of the moments earth, sky, divinities, mortals, and insists that each implies the others.) Heidegger describes the sky as follows:

The sky is the vaulting path of the sun, the course of the changing moon, the wandering glitter of the stars, the year’s seasons and their changes, the light and dusk of the day, the gloom and glow of the night, the clemency and inclemency of the weather, the drifting clouds and the blue depth of the ether. When we say sky, we are already thinking of the other three along with it, but we give no thought to the simple oneness of the four. [PLT, 149]

The earth shelters us, whereas the sky looms over us and, in a sense, subjects us. But there is a further, still more important contrast between earth and sky. The earth shelters, but it also conceals. The earth is full of mystery, hidden in dark secluded places. And this mystery, as I have alluded to, is kin to the mystery in us: the terrifying facticity of our genetic makeup, our inexplicable drives and urges, the irresistible call of the nature within us.

When we wish to know the things of this earth (and the things in us), we bring them out into the light of the sky – literally and figuratively. The sky reveals. The earth is always holding things within, always concealing. When the light moves over the things we have brought from the earth, they are revealed. When the night comes, the earth achieves a temporary victory in its efforts at concealing – and the things of the earth, in their concealment, reveal themselves as uncanny.

We find a rock in the depths of a cave and bring it out under the daylight sky in order to know it. And when we come to better understand, say, our genetic makeup we call this “shedding light” on things, and ourselves as becoming “enlightened” on the matter. To “know things” at the most basic, sensory level is to bring them under the light of the sun (vision, for which we require light, has always been the paradigm of sensory awareness). But the sun has also always represented for us the ideal, as it does in Plato. And to truly know things one must go beyond the level of bare sensory awareness and understand them in light of the ideal: ideas, patterns, models, laws, theories, and so forth.

Sky and earth do not appear to us in the same way that objects in the sky or on the earth appear. In a real sense, though sky and earth are perceptible, they are not objects at all since we never see their limits: from our standpoint on the earth we perceive neither the limits of the sky nor the limits of the earth. Sky and earth are that within which everything appears, but they do not themselves appear as objects within any larger context or horizon. This gives sky and earth a very special sort of fundamentality: they are ultimate contexts or horizons for everything else. And they are, in one way or another, our ultimate horizons of meaning in terms of which all else is understood. (See my essay “What is a Rune?”) It is this opposition between sky and earth that founds the traditional distinction between the Uranic and Chthonic (a distinction Heidegger himself does not discuss).

In the act of bringing things from the earth into the light of the sky (in whatever way), we find a dichotomy within ourselves that mirrors that between earth and sky. Within me there is, first of all, the “biological” or “natural” part referred to earlier. This is the ground within me, the bedrock of unchosen and fixed identity. But then there is that other part of me that emerges at a certain point from this bedrock and soars above it. This is the part that seeks to understand – to bring what is concealed into the light. This could be something concealed in the earth at my feet, or concealed in the “earth” that is within me; in the depths of the mysterious, unchosen biological ground that is there before the formation of my conscious sense of identity.

This part that seeks to understand goes by many names, but one of them is spirit. And since it is our spirit that strives to bring things out of the earth, out of concealment, and into the light of the sky, we identify our spirit with the sky as well. The spirit too is “up there,” kin to the idea and the ideal. It too rises above earth, which – unlike awakened spirit – slumbers in darkness. Thus, out of the distinction between earth and sky is formed the distinction between matter and spirit, and matter and form (though I use the language of philosophy here, these basic distinctions have been expressed in countless different ways and predate philosophy).

We seek to know things that appear within these two ultimate horizons of sky and earth. In the sky the sun fascinates us – and punishes us when we peer into it, seeking to know it. We are drawn also to the stars in the sky, which reveal themselves when the sun is concealed, and show us the way. The seasons and the weather are objects of our curiosity as well, as they have the capacity to affect our lives in dramatic, even catastrophic ways. If we could learn their ways, we could, perhaps, improve our lot in life. On earth, we seek to know the ways of animals and plants and stones: where they come from, what their powers are, and how we might use them for our own ends. This curiosity, this desire to bring the natures of things out of concealment and know and master them is uniquely human.

3. Divinities and Mortals

But in fact there is a different, but related, human characteristic that is deeper and more fundamental than this – and that truly gets to the heart of what makes us unique. It is our capacity to be struck with wonder at the fact that all of these things are. We are stuck, in other words, by the sheer Being of things.[5]

In fact, what makes this capacity possible is that we are mortal. We are the only animals that are aware of the fact that we will eventually die. The fact that I exist at all, and that my existence is so fleeting and precarious, fills me with wonder and with dread. This opens me to wonder in the face of the facticity of all else – especially that which, unlike me, is immortal. The constants of existence, in earth and sky, fill me with awe. These things are greater than I. These things are the gods, what Heidegger calls “the divinities.”[6] Wonder at the Being of these constant features of life and existence as such is the intuition of the presence of a god. (See my essay “Summoning the Gods.”)

This uniquely human capacity is a function of what I have elsewhere termed (also adapting Heidegger) ekstasis. (See my essay “The Gifts of Ódhinn and His Brothers.”) Fundamentally, this is our capacity to “leave ourselves” (to stand outside ourselves: ek-stasis) and the immediate moment, and to be arrested or seized by the Being of things. When this occurs we become the vehicle for Being’s expression, we become inspired, and we are moved to give voice to it and to new possibilities that we glimpse when we are so captivated. Ekstasis is at the root of poetic and artistic inspiration of all kinds, myth-making, philosophy, and even scientific discovery. Ekstasis takes a variety of forms and comes to us in a variety of ways. It can come, for example, in the form of frenzied physical activity – in fighting, dancing, or sex, to name just a few. Ekstasis is my rendering of the Old Norse Ódhr, of which Ódhinn is the personification.[7]

We can now see how the fourfold operates. Mortals live on the sheltering earth, underneath the sky. Living between earth and sky, mortals live between concealing and revealing, or concealing and truth. They draw things out of concealment and into the light, striving for the ideal of truth, clarity, and illumination represented by the daylight sky – while all the time recognizing that revealing never completely triumphs over concealing. The open sky never completely triumphs over the mystery of the sheltering, concealing earth. The Uranic and Chthonic must share power. The very mortality of the mortals opens them to the uncanniness of Being itself: wonder in the face of the fact that things are at all. And in this wonder, they encounter the constants of existence: the immortals, the gods.

This mortal existence – living between the sheltering earth and the mercurial sky, in awareness of divine presence – is dwelling. Heidegger tells us that

Mortals dwell in that they save the earth – taking the word in the old sense still known to Lessing. Saving does not only snatch something from a danger. To save really means to set something free into its own presencing. To save the earth is more than to exploit it or even to wear it out. Saving the earth does not master the earth and does not subjugate it, which is merely one step from spoliation. [PLT, 150]

Mortals “save” the earth, and they “receive the sky. They leave to the sun and the moon their journey, to the stars their courses, to the seasons their blessing and inclemency; they do not turn night into day nor day into a harassed unrest” (PLT, 150). Here we see the anti-modern subtext in Heidegger: mortals (i.e., authentic, pre-modern men) practice what Heidegger calls Gelassenheit (letting-beings-be). They accept the earth and sky with a certain humility, not forcing them, and what appears within them, into pre-given categories, or attempting to break down the natural limits that sky and earth impose upon our lives (e.g., they do seek to “turn night into day”). But there is more:

Mortals dwell in that they await the divinities as divinities. In hope they hold up to the divinities what is unhoped for. They wait for intimations of their coming and do not mistake the signs of their absence. They do not make their gods for themselves and do not worship idols. In the very depth of misfortune they wait for the ideal that has been withdrawn. [PLT, 150]

In other words, mortals let the gods come forth to them. They do not erect new gods or idols of their own creation and worship them (e.g., money, the state, the People, “democracy,” “equality,” “diversity,” etc.). And when it feels as if the gods may have abandoned them, they do not abandon their gods: they make ready for their return. This is what it means to dwell – in this intersection between ourselves (the mortals), earth, sky, and the gods.

And in dwelling Heidegger says that we bring forth a world. The world “happens” in human beings drawing things out of concealment. In other words, in making truth (which, again, is

simply revealing, or unconcealment; see Heidegger’s essay “On the Essence of Truth”). The world does not mean the planet or the universe. The world we live in is a “place,” but it is a place shaped through our attempts to understand, to bring things into the light, and to express what we have discovered. The world, in other words, is a human world; it is life in “man age.” It is earth and sky, and all that lies therein, as encountered – primarily – in the form of myth, poetry, philosophy, and science (i.e., in the forms of human culture as such).[8]

4. Conclusion: “Poetically man dwells”

As I have noted, all of these forms are founded on ekstasis – on our capacity to be struck with wonder at the sheer fact that things are. However, the primary expression of ekstasis is to be found in poetry (which, in the world of our ancestors, is indistinguishable from myth). “Poetry” is derived from the Greek poesis, which simply means “making.” What we call “poetry” is, in fact, the primary form of making.

Heidegger tells us that “poetry, as the authentic gauging of the dimension of dwelling, is the primal form of building. Poetry first of all admits man’s dwelling into its very nature, its presencing being. Poetry is the original admission of dwelling” (PLT, 227). But what does this strange comment mean? Heidegger gives us a clue when he tells us elsewhere that “Poetry is the saying of the unconcealedness of what is” (PLT, 74). Poetry, as I’ve noted already, is the saying of Being.

Poetry speaks when human beings are struck with wonder in the face of Being. As a very simple example, take the famous haiku by Bashō:

Old pond . . .
a frog leaps in
water’s sound[9]

Here the poet attempts to express a moment that others would hardly notice; a constellation of elements – pond, frog, the sound of the water – that others would take for granted. The poet, however, is struck by the fact that these things are, and he attempts to express the Being of these things, and the Being of this unrepeatable moment, in words. Other art forms have a similar origin. A painter passes a tree hundreds of people see every day, but something stops him in his tracks when he sees it and he is moved – he is impelled – to paint it. What has happened is that the artist has been arrested by an experience of the sheer Being of the tree – he experiences wonder at the fact that it is at all. Then he attempts to capture that Being in a painting – and to produce the same experience of wonder in the spectators who will gaze at his painting.

Poetry registers the Being of beings. It is the most basic thing about us that makes us human. We are the beings who are struck by Being and moved to give expression to it. Poetry – which includes myth – is the primal form of this expression. All else that is uniquely human is founded upon this and flows from this. This includes philosophy and science, which begin in revolt against the poets and poetic inspiration, yet are covertly dependent upon both. (See my discussion of poetic inspiration in science in “The Gifts of Ódhinn and is Brothers.”)

Even Aristotle, who certainly did not have the soul of a poet, recognized that “Philosophy begins in wonder” (i.e., wonder in the face of Being).

Poetry is expressed in language, but Heidegger tells us that language is “not only and not primarily an audible and written expression of what is to be communicated.” Primarily, language is what brings the Being of beings into the open and gives it expression. “Where there is no language, as in the being of stone, plant, and animal, there is also no openness of what is, and consequently no openness either of that which is not and of the empty” (PLT, 73). Here Heidegger turns the usual understanding of language on its head. Language is not primarily a form of written or spoken communication, but only secondarily. For there to be communication, there must be something to communicate. And what, at the most basic level, do we communicate in language? We communicate what things are. The registration of the Being of beings precedes all communication and the primary function of language is to, in a sense, “capture” this experience of Being.

We are the beings who register and communicate Being in language, and we live in a world that is structured and informed by language. At the deepest level, what this really means is that our world is structured by our understanding of the Being of beings; our conceptions of what things are. And so Heidegger famously (or infamously) says that “When we go to the well, when we go through the woods, we are always already going through the word ‘well,’ through the word ‘woods,’ even if we do not speak the words and do not think of anything relating to language” (PLT, 132).

What Heidegger means is that our encounter with beings is structured or conditioned by our concepts of those beings – concepts which we express in language. The well is not, for me, a unique individual – even if I am encountering it for the first time. It is a well; an object that shows up for me as agreeing with the concept I hold in mind of the kind of thing it is. Based upon this concept I expect, in advance, certain things of the well and not others. Depending upon the richness or poverty of my concept, the object will reveal its Being to me to a greater or lesser degree.

In concepts, in language, we create a new world that expresses the Being of the world around us, as well as the world within us. It is as if we are the beings who want to capture and preserve all that is through our conceptual capacity – to snatch it out of the fleeting moment and away from change and decay, and preserve it in the amber of our words. Heidegger quotes Rainer Maria Rilke: “We are the bees of the invisible. We ceaselessly gather the honey of the visible, to store it up in the great golden beehive of the Invisible” (PLT, 130).[10]

And so we erect an alternate conceptual or linguistic universe of ideas, generalizations, classifications, myths, stories, theories, ideals, and standards (moral and otherwise) – a counter world much like Plato’s “realm of forms.” When we go to the well or through the woods – when we do anything at all – we are always simultaneously going through this conceptual counter-world as well.

But conceptual worlds change – and may even be lost to us. When our ancestors walked on this earth, when they walked to the well or through the woods, they walked though the words of their poets. And the poets told them that they dwelt at the intersection of eight worlds, with their world, the ninth world, in the middle. What we have learned through Heidegger is what it means, in the most fundamental sense, to dwell in that world. To dwell in that world is to exist at a simpler and basic intersection – between the fourfold of earth, sky, divinities, and mortals. And fundamentally, dwelling in that world means poetically giving birth to the world itself. Heidegger also famously declares “world worlds” (PLT, 44).

In the sequel to this essay, we will explore the ninefold cosmological system that emerged from the minds of our ancestors when they dwelt poetically in this fourfold world.


1. Compare Old High German weralt, and Old Norse verǫld. The common source is Proto-Germanic *wira-alđiz.

2. This does not lead to the postmodern relativist claim that there is no truth or no reality, only interpretation. Some interpretations are better, more plausible, and more rational than others given the available evidence.

3. Phenomenology (literally, the study or science of phenomena) is a philosophical movement founded by Edmund Husserl (1859–1938), the teacher of Martin Heidegger. It attempts to describe the fundamental features of experience. Phenomenology does not deal with the concrete content of experience (dogs, rocks, stars, etc. – which are studied by the other sciences) but instead describes the ways in which objects are given to consciousness. Thus, any attempt to describe how the world, or aspects of the world, show up for us (or for our ancestors) is an exercise in phenomenological description.

4. Martin Heidegger, Poetry, Language, Thought, trans. Albert Hofstadter  (New York: Harper and Row, 1971), 146. (Henceforth cited and referred to within the body of the text as PLT).

5. I am following the practice in some English translations of Heidegger of capitalizing the initial letter in Being, so as to distinguish it from a being, or beings. A being (any thing that is) is something that has Being. The distinction between Being and beings, which is absolutely fundamental and basic, is termed by Heidegger “the ontological difference.” See my essay “Heidegger: An Introduction for Anti-Modernists.”

6. Heidegger writes: “The divinities are the beckoning messengers of the godhead. Out of the holy sway of the godhead, the god appears in his presence or withdraws into his concealment. When we speak of the divinities, we are already thinking of the other three along with them, but we give no thought to the simple oneness of the four” (PLT, 150).

7. Readers may wonder why I have substituted a Greek word for an Old Norse one, especially since this is an essay on Germanic, neo-pagan theology. The reason is simple, and practical. Ódhr means absolutely nothing to Anglophone ears and eyes. But ekstasis is immediately recognizable as the source word for “ecstasy” and “ecstatic.” Scholarly accounts of Ódhr very often identify it with “ecstatic experience.” Part of my approach to understanding Germanic mythic, magical, and philosophic ideas is to set them in a different vocabulary. Indeed, understanding any difficult idea involves expressing it in new and different ways.

8. It is poetry and myth that are primary here, as I will argue in a moment, though philosophy and science also create a world. But ultimately philosophy and science become mythic, erecting new forms in which Being reveals itself to us. Very often in the modern period these forms conceal more than they reveal.

9. I realize most readers will expect me to use an example of skaldic verse. I chose a haiku just because it is an extremely simple form, and I wish to make my point in the simplest possible way.

10. Italics in original. In Rilke’s original text the first sentence in the quote is in his native German. The second sentence is in French.


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  1. Posted December 23, 2015 at 4:11 pm | Permalink

    The etymology of “world” that is referred to is dubious. ‘Official’ etymology is as trustworthy a ‘science’ as official history. Proto-Germanic is not a language, but a reconstruction, based on questionable assumptions.

    The Old Frisian term was: wrald, wrauld, wraald, rualde.

    Heinrich Himmler in various occasions referred to what he believed was an ancient (and sacred) Germanic term: Wralda or Waralda, meaning Ur-alte (most ancient one). Quotes here:

    If asked, I would suggest “old man” or “most ancient one”, rather than “age of man” or “man age”.

  2. Christopher P
    Posted October 22, 2012 at 2:27 pm | Permalink

    Another superb essay, Collin. Thank you. I think that the point about the “conceptual world” has a real application for the New Right. We should be wary of overly-ideological approaches, even of ideology itself, due to its inevitable effect of concealing reality and abstracting natural impulses into moral codes. To the extent that we “take our own side”, we are being authentic. This is not an excuse for crass individualism, but rather an acceptance of our natural empathy for the more proximate. Such an approach is inescapably heathen, or pagan, as it is founded on the particular and local, and it contrasts with the error of universalization, or abstraction.

  3. Gregor
    Posted October 20, 2012 at 6:19 pm | Permalink

    Collin, are you familiar with Korzybsky’s concept of language as “time binding”? The last few paragraphs echoed that idea of language as an urge to bind or “tie down” Being as “it” rushes “past” a being.

    I hate to sound “racist” (wink, wink), but I see this urge, almost a passion, to “grab reality” and bind it so as to not lose it … as more prevalent in our Folk than among others. I don’t know why this is, but think it has something to do with the nature of western, alphabetic languages (written) and how that affects our thinking, and hence “worlding” of our world. McLuhan had much to say about this, albeit in different terms.

    • Collin Cleary
      Posted October 21, 2012 at 12:11 pm | Permalink

      No, I’m not familiar with Korzybsky.
      I think that the urge to “grab reality” is a human universal — although it may be present to a greater degree, or take different forms, in different peoples. The Japanese haiku form (which I discuss in the essay) is certainly an example of this. What seems to differentiate our people from others is that we place a greater emphasis upon individuality and uniqueness (whether of people or of things), and seek to celebrate this individuality in poetry and elsewhere (think of the sagas as accounts of the exploits of individuals). Whereas in the East, individuals (again, whether people, things, or situations) are viewed more or less as exemplars of ideal types (think of Asian art, where every member of a group or caste looks alike). OUR tendency seems to be to want to grab the reality of the individual and grant it eternity in words.

  4. Gregor
    Posted October 20, 2012 at 5:40 pm | Permalink

    Masterful “revealing” of my favorite pieces of Heidegger. This essay almost makes reading the master himself unnecessary, and helps avoid the confusion often caused by Heidegger’s difficult prose style.

    We cannot understand where we are and where we “should” go until we clarify the nature and mystery inherent in the fact of our being, and the relation of that to what it means to dwell.

    Finding an approach to this, walking a path in this direction, IS the task at hand for dealing with our people’s current situation.

    But best of all is the clear connection made between Heidegger’s Fourfold and the natural cosmology of the European Folk, both in times past, and for now and the future.

    Thank you Collin!

    • Collin Cleary
      Posted October 21, 2012 at 12:05 pm | Permalink

      Thank you, Gregor!

      I hope you enjoy the next installment.

  5. ned
    Posted October 20, 2012 at 8:26 am | Permalink

    Read the two star comment on the amazon website regarding Heidegger’s book of essays:

    Obviously a left wing nut job who has to rely on conflating Heidegger with both the Nazis and the Catholic church in order to denigrate a great book. God, I despise degenerate left wingers.

  6. Jaego
    Posted October 19, 2012 at 9:54 pm | Permalink

    How about Blake’s statement, that if the senses were cleansed, everything would appear as it is: infinite. Is this a simpler entrance into what you are saying? Of course it hinges on what “cleansed” means. Certainly some of the Christian Mystics used the same language and attained “a world” suffused with Divinity. See Thomas Traherne’s Meditations. And of course there are the “nature poets” such as Wordsworth who also attained this world without overt Christianity.

    Are you any relation to the Clearys who translated all those Eastern Texts for Shamballa Publishing?

    • Collin Cleary
      Posted October 21, 2012 at 12:04 pm | Permalink

      But how do we cleanse the doors of perception?

      No, I am no relation to those other Clearys.

      • Jaego
        Posted October 21, 2012 at 9:58 pm | Permalink

        As a more Oriental Faith, Christain mystics might still the mind and thus be able to “hear” things speaking. This became secularized of course: Emerson talked of how language dulls us so we don’t see things anymore but rather just the label.

        But in terms of Theology, God let Adam name all things. So Heidegger’s approach is not completely at odds with Christianity. One might get the same result by examining things more closely – that also would still the mental chatter and enable one to enter the real world.

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  • By Scientific Cosmology - Social Matter on October 12, 2015 at 9:00 am

    […] finally we turn to Germanic paganism, following Collin Cleary’s explanation in The Fourfold and The Ninefold (Part 2, Part 3), which provides a much more complex cosmology than either ancient […]

  • […] is the second of two essays on the Germanic cosmology or worldview. In the first essay (“The Fourfold”) I explored the very idea of a “world” itself, freely adapting Martin Heidegger’s analysis […]

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