Northern Europeans Channel Abhidharma? [The Woo Files]

Subtitle: but are too glum to make much of it.

The Fantoft stave church in Bergen Norway. Allegedly burnt down by Norwegian Black Metal music fans.


Wat Pa Maha Chedi Kaew: The Million Beer Bottle Temple at Khun Han Thailand.


Notice any resemblance? I sure do. (layered roofs, pointed things, central tower, angles of the roof, pillars, etc) That must mean something. And the Thai temple was made partly with Heineken bottles. That must mean something too. Coincidence? I think not!

[OK.  I’m done channeling Sarah Palin now. I hate it when she talks foreign policy.]

Got to thinking about all the emotional terms, many I’ve used in this blog, that are so descriptively labeled in German and related languages (from the Old Norse (Scandinavian) languages as well as geographically nearby places).

Many seem to be very melancholy or broody terms. It is quite true that us Nordic types often enjoy sitting around and brooding.

My great grandfather came from Norway specifically because of the brooding potential the unclaimed frigid prairie of Canada offered. He went first to Minnesota but it wasn’t quite broody enough so he picked up a wife of similar temperament and went even further into the hinterland.

Vast swaths of clumpy grass and gnarled shrubs, dry heat that shrivels the pores, freezing winters that never seem to end-it’s the kind of thought that really gets a brooder excited. But not too excited.  And he brooded well there, for 98 years. There were times of really deep and profound brooding for him, mostly between the births of his 13 children. My great grandmother, a German, brooded in quite another sense. And she brooded well too.  Obviously.

Another set of great-grandparents combine a Swede and a Lapp-lander. In the latter case reindeer herders really know how to brood on the move. A very useful ability.

I was once accused of brooding in my office by a former boss. Month end reports were immanently due and I didn’t have time for chit-chat with her. She went back to her office and closed the door.  This is brooding by proxy or projected brooding and doesn’t really count though.

So it’s with this somber emotional panorama, as vast as the prairie sky, but infinitely more gray,  that I delve into the subject of brooding and it’s categorizations.

While those writers of the Abhidharma were busy categorizing mind states and consciousness some European (tho Europe hadn’t been invented yet really) people, waiting for the sun to rise more than a few degrees above the horizon, also took to inward exploration and analysis as well.

And it’s been done to such a level that it’s practically a cultural art form.

I’ve mentioned:

  • Schadenfreud-pleasure derived from the misfortunes of others
  • Freudenshade-sorrow at another person’s success.
  • Angst-an intense feeling of strife

but there are a whole lot more words and phrases worthy of long, considered and painful reflection.

  • Weltschmerz-meaning world-pain or world-weariness… The psychological pain caused by sadness that can occur when realizing that someone’s own weaknesses are caused by the inappropriateness and cruelty of the world and (physical and social) circumstance..mental depression or apathy caused by comparison of the actual state of the world with an ideal state…a mood of sentimental sadness
  • Sehnsucht-“longing”, “yearning” and “craving”, or in a wider sense a type of “intensely missing”.
  • Sturm und Drang-an 18th century literary movement; “storm and stress” in English, although the literal translation is closer to “storm and urge”
  • Weltanschauung-refers to a wide world perception. Additionally, it refers to the framework of ideas and beliefs through which an individual interprets the world and interacts with it. It is how we see the world from our little Umwelt-world of private experience that is impossible to share fully. “self-centered world”
  • Sorge-grief, sorrow, worry, apprehension, anxiety, care, trouble, uneasiness, concern
  • Kummer grief, sorrow coll. trouble
  • Leiden suffering, pain, grief
  • Trauer mourning
  • Götterdämmerung-“twilight of the gods,” the total, violent collapse of a regime, society, institution; term borrowed from Wagnerian opera

  • Hinterland-“back country” -remote lonely area

  • Kitsch-something gaudy or pretentious, in poor taste

  • Masochism-pleasure in receiving the pain. Named for the Austrian novelist Leopold Ritter von Sacher-Masoch (1836-1895)

  • Waldsterben-“forest death,” a term used for the decline of the world’s forests

Some lovely music to listen to while pondering the inevitable.

From nearby languages


Sisu from sisu “stamina, (colloquial) guts.”Sisu refers not to the courage of optimism, but to a concept of life that says, ‘I may not win, but I will gladly give my life for what I believe.'” Aini Rajanen, Of Finnish Ways, 1981, p. 10.

Finns seem to have a bit more kick-ass to their brooding. Must be the saunas.

Old Norse Words that Made it to English

  • anger angr (“=trouble, affliction”); root ang (=”strait, straitened, troubled”); related to anga, plural öngur (=”straits, anguish”) English provenance = c 1250 CE
  • awkward the first element is from Old Norse öfugr (“=turned-backward”), the ‘-ward’ part is from Old English weard
  • berserk berserkr, lit. ‘bear-shirt’, (alt. berr-serkr, ‘bare-shirt’) frenzied warriors
  • die deyja (=”pass away”)
  • Hell may be in part from Old Norse Hel, the daughter of Loki and ruler of the underworld in Norse mythology
  • mistake mistaka (=”miscarry”)
  • scare skirra (=”to frighten)

(from Wikipedia List of English Words of Old Norse Origin)


Phrases and quotes

Here’s some broody phrases that encapsulate the entire Zeitgeist.

  • Was kann ich wissen? Was soll ich tun? Was darf ich hoffen?: “What can I know? What shall I do? What may I hope?” — Kant
  • Hier stehe ich, ich kann nicht anders. Gott helfe mir. Amen!: “Here I stand, I cannot do differently. God help me. Amen!” — attributed to Martin Luther
  • Mit brennender Sorge  “With burning anxiety” is a Catholic Church encyclical of Pope Pius XI, published on 10 March 1937 (but bearing a date of Passion Sunday, 14 March)

    Totentanz Dance of Death by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, is a famous German poem. You can read the dual-language version yourself.

    And don’t even get me started on the delectably grim Brothers Grimm. Here’s a whole website Grimm Stories of their works available in multiple languages. Perfect to read to the children before bedtime. Hey my parents did it and look how I turned out.  


    Yes Homer Simpson was right when he stated,”Those Germans have a word for everything!”

    Here is a recent Icelandic contribution to the fertility of the soil in Europe. All that ash is going to be good for the next growing season. Trust me I’m from Saskatchewan. We know all about fertilizer.


    Here’s some lovely Death Metal to just make your day.  Children of Bodom (from Espoo Finland) doing Rihanna’s Umbrella. Are you f*ing kidding? Maybe.

    One comment on “Northern Europeans Channel Abhidharma? [The Woo Files]

    1. We Nordics have nothing on the Slavs, though. We Finns borrowed our word for “anguish/pain/suffering”—tuska—from Russian (toská). It’s much more powerful in Russian, though: there’s a term “zelënaya toska,” or “green anguish,” which means anguish that’s so intense that the only way to deal with it, short of killing yourself, is to drink a kilo of vodka, which comes in a green bottle. Germanic languages don’t have vocabular for that sort of thing. And dukkha? Psss…

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