Meditation and related kinds of consciousness-focusing are fundamental skills for many of the most important Heathen-oriented activities. It is very obviously needed for spaecraft, runecraft, priestcraft, and for the pursuit of personal spiritual growth. It is also an essential skill for those who wish to infuse their crafts and arts with a spiritual dimension and/or with specific powers such as magical or rune-powers. Furthermore, meditation is an excellent method to sustain one's physical and psychological health, well-being and energy, and to strengthen one's mental powers. A mind and body well-practiced in meditation can pursue any activity better, more calmly and intently, more fruitfully, than is the case for the unpracticed. In fact, there are so many good reasons to meditate on a regular basis, that it makes a good deal more sense to ask the question "Why not meditate?" There really are no good answers to that question, whereas answers to the question "Why meditate" could take a long time to go through!
Types of Consciousness-Focusing Activities
There is much that has been written and taught about meditation from the religious perspective in many different faiths, as well as from a more applied or practical perspective for purposes ranging from psychological healing to enhancing one's combat skills. There are different "systems" of meditation, and different ways of defining it. One of the breakouts that is often made is to distinguish between concentration, meditation, and contemplation.
"Concentration" implies primarily the focusing of one's mental and psychic powers on a specific goal, desire or purpose. As such, it is useful for applications involving memory, visualization, and mental skills of focus that are often used in runecraft and other kinds of magical undertakings. Concentration, in and of itself, is not often used in strictly religious exercises.
"Meditation" is a less goal-driven activity--there is reason underlying one's practice of it, but generally not a specific, precisely-defined goal or end-point. Meditation covers a wide spectrum of mental, psychological and spiritual activity, both religiously-oriented and not necessarily religiously-oriented; these will be discussed further in this article. It tends to be calming but invigorating in its effects.
The term "contemplation" is generally used to describe the state of mind and mode of awareness that is pursued in advanced, religiously-oriented exercises, where one contemplates the Divine, without any other purpose or goal than awareness and experience of the Divine itself.
There are no firm dividing lines between these categories, in my opinion: they tend to blend into each other at the edges, and one may pursue more than one category during the course of a single exercise or experience.
If one is interested in learning concentration, there are a number of books available that offer good exercises and training for this mental skill. One book in the Heathen tradition that can be recommended for its offering of concentration exercises is Edred Thorsson's "Nine Worlds of Midgard."
Contemplation, as defined here, is an advanced skill that is beyond the scope and purpose of an article on "Beginning Meditation." Since there are books available about concentration, and since contemplation is beyond our scope, this article will focus on meditation rather than on either of the other two categories. It should be noted, though, that training in any of these skills enhances one's ability to learn and practice both of the other ones: the skills themselves are closely related, even if the purposes to which they are put tend to differ from each other.
Types of Meditation
In this series of articles, I shall explain and offer guidelines for three different kinds of meditation. Though some religious traditions tend to regard some types of meditation as "higher," "purer," or otherwise better than other types, it is my opinion that especially at the beginning and intermediate levels, there is no one way that is always "better" than the others. It is more a matter of personal preference, as to what method appeals to you, holds your interest, motivates you to pursue it, and makes sense to you. For those of you who are more strongly motivated by variety and become bored with routine, it is useful to have several different types of approaches and exercises, to provide you with this variety. For those of you who learn better by settling into a comfortable routine, you can choose whichever method appeals to you and stick with that one, at least at the beginning stages.
However, ultimately I recommend that you learn all three methods, as each of them have their own strengths and weaknesses when they are applied to specific religious or related kinds of practices. Though different traditions and systems have their own names for these different types of meditation, I shall avoid lending any "outside" cultural or religious bias to this discussion, by making up my own descriptive names for them. I shall refer to these three types of meditation as "repetitive meditation," "immersion meditation," and "empty mind meditation."
This type of meditation is, in concept, the simplest form, though it is no easier in practice than the others (at least in my experience!). I would guess--and this is my own speculation with only a very small amount of lore to back me in it--that this is the form of meditation most commonly used by our Heathen forebears, for many if not all of the purposes meditation is used for.
Repetitive meditation consists of taking a very short galdor or poetic verse, a simple phrase or thought, or even a single word or sound, and repeating it over and over again. One uses this short phrase as the linchpin of one's consciousness and awareness, allowing all else to fade into the background. At first, one speaks or chants this phrase aloud, and does this exercise only during one's scheduled meditation times. But the eventual goal, through long practice and training, is to be able to keep this phrase in the foreground of one's awareness even while undertaking other activities, and even when it is not being spoken aloud.
This meditation exercise may seem ridiculously simplistic, even banal, and it may seem that nothing of any great value in a spiritual sense could be achieved through practicing it. But, there is a very long tradition of testimony to the ability of this specific practice to bring a person to great heights of spiritual development. The Christian mystical tradition in both the Eastern and Western churches has shown through the centuries that this meditative practice can be of enormous benefit and effect. Often simply the name "Jesus" is used, or a very simple phrase such as "Lord have mercy" or "Hail Mary, full of grace." In the Hindu tradition, the use of the word "OM" is famous for its beneficial effects. Buddhists, Muslim Sufi mystics, Native American religions, and people in many shamanic religions around the world make use of simple chants, words or phrases--even ones that have no actual linguistic meaning to them, such as "OM" or the Native American "heya-ho."
How does this meditative practice work? Simple though it seems, it works simultaneously on a number of different levels and dimensions at once. At the physical level, if one is chanting or speaking aloud, this practice causes even, rhythmical breathing, and sets up vibrations in the head and body that can have many subtle good effects, including relaxation and the toning and stimulation of the spiritual energy or maegen that we carry in our bodies and brains.
At the conceptual level, it can imbue one's consciousness with a particular thought, meaning, or essence, depending on the phrase or word that is used. For example, galdoring a rune will bring the power of that rune into your body and mind, and the more you do this, the more imbued you become with the power and understanding of the rune.
Repetitive chanting is one of the very best ways to bring yourself into a trance state, if you are seeking to do this. Speaking or chanting the name of one of our Goddesses or Gods, or a phrase of your choice that relates to them, with your full consciousness devoted to this practice will help to bring you into their presence and open up mutual awareness between you and them.