Before walking through any doorway,
One should look about;
One should peer around keenly:
Because one may never be certain where a foe
Sits within the hall before you.
–Havamal 1, Translation by Connla Freyjason
At face value, this may seem like an extraordinarily paranoid way of living one’s life. It calls to mind those warnings which now run at the beginning of a movie everytime we visit a theater: “Look around you and find the nearest exit; if someone behaves oddly, make your way to the nearest exit and move far, far away.” It’s a sad, scared world that we live in, and apparently, it was also a sad, scared world for our Ancestors.
But there’s far more to this passage than apparent paranoia:
It is also a reminder to take the time to pause in life, and take a look around.
How often do we rush through life, never taking a moment even to pause to look over the threshold of a doorway before walking through it? I mean, when was the last time you paused, say, before your own front door, and took a moment to look at the door itself, or the wreath or besom you may have hanging upon it? Maybe even took those few extra moments to turn around and look back at your yard, and perhaps notice a blue jay or a squirrel who has likewise taken the time to pause, and look at you?
It is a reminder to look before we leap.
How often have you gotten yourself in too far over your head because you simply jumped in with both feet before looking at all the angles of a situation? If you’re like me, this happens to you quite often! An important part of mindfulness is actually taking the time to “roll something around” in your mind and “peer at it keenly”. There may be pitfalls ahead that you might otherwise have overlooked.
And, yes, it is a reminder to always have an exit strategy!
Taking those extra moments to be mindful of the situations in our lives can also help us to “find the exits”, and form valuable strategies for when we need to “bow out gracefully” (or even not-so-gracefully). On occasion, situations arise where we need to disentangle ourselves–maybe even flee–in order to live to fight another day. Such behavior is neither cowardice nor giving up, but instead, saving face and surviving: sometimes, having an exit strategy is the only way to keep our hamingja (our reputation and legacy) intact. It might be what is necessary to prevent you yourself from becoming the enemy.
I’ve been working my way through a twenty-seven night runic initiation. The first nine nights consisted of working through Freyja’s aett (Fehu, Uruz, Thurisaz, Ansuz, Raidho, Kenaz, Gebo, Wunjo), but I have now begun working with Heimdall’s aett (Hagalaz, Nauthiz, Isa, Jera, Eihwaz, Perdhro, Algiz, Sowilo). Some would consider nine nights working with those particular runes to be a weighty–possibly even a profoundly negative–exercise. However, I am finding a peace within Heimdall’s runes that I never might have expected.
My ultimate guideline for the study of each rune has been stanza 143 of the Havamal (literally: “Sayings of the High One”; the sayings of Odin, Codex Regius, 13th century):
Do you know how to carve them?
Do you know how to use them to advise?
Do you know how to paint them?
Do you know how to prove them?
Do you know how to pray them?
Do you know how to blot them?
Do you know how to send them?
Do you know how to destroy them?
And within those first four runes of Heimdall’s aett, I have found a “recipe”, if you will, for getting through the more stressful times in life:
Rune of destruction and controlled chaos; of testing and trial which lead to harmony.
Advises against catastrophe, stagnation, suffering, and pain.
Proven by accepting those things which are beyond one’s control.
Sent forth as harmony in the face of opposition
Rune of resistance leading to strength; of delays and restrictions; of endurance, survival, determination, self-reliance, and the will to overcome.
Advises against deprivation, imprisonment, and distress.
Proven by standing fast in the face of trials and via innovation born of strength of will.
Sent forth as strength and compassionate endurance.
Rune of challenges and frustrations; of standstills and times for introspection and/or turning inward; of holding fast.
Advises against treachery, illusion, deceit, and betrayal.
Proven by standing still and seeking clarity.
Prayed: Be Still.
Sent forth as stillness and the ability to hold fast.
Rune of reaped rewards and fruitful seasons; of peace and happiness; of cycles and of change; of hopes, expectations, and successes earned.
Advises against bad timing, conflict, and reversals of fortune.
Proven by hoping and dreaming; by accepting and understanding the cycles of life in the Universe; by working hard to manifest one’s dreams.
Sent forth as peace and good seasons.
When faced with the stresses of life, it is all too easy to get caught up in them; to cling needlessly to the suffering and pain that they cause (Hagalaz). However, if we follow the example inherent in the runes Nauthiz and Isa, we may learn to turn tragedy into triumph by quieting our minds and hearts, and, as we endure, using the force of our will to fuel innovation. Jera promises that if we do this–accept and understand the cycles of the Universe–we will be gifted with reaped rewards and fruitful seasons.
Last night, as I sang the galdr for Heimdall’s aett, I was gifted with the bind-rune, depicted in the upper left of the image above, as well as the accompanying galdr and prayer. For those among our audience who are not working from a Norse base, I have also included Christian and Celtic-based cognates for the prayer. I hope it will help others have a little less-Monday Monday.
Sigyn, show me how to Overcome;
Gerdha, Grant Peace and Good Seasons,
That Skadi may show me how to Be Still.
Rhiannon, show me how to Overcome;
Taillte, Grant Peace and Good Seasons,
That the Cailleach may show me now to Be Still.
Archangel Gabriel, Help;
Mother Mary, show me how to Overcome;
Saint Ruth, Grant Peace and Good Seasons,
That Saint Elizabeth may show me how to Be Still.
It’s that time of year again: the time of year when even the Muggles don’t have troubles talking about the Beloved Dead and actively seeking them out. Halloween (Samhain) has been my favorite time of year since I was a child because it is the one and only time of the year where I, Michelle Iacona, get to “put my crazy on the front porch”, as they say down South. It’s the one and only time of the year when people like me, who can do what I do, are even semi-accepted by the Muggles. It’s the one and only time of the year when I feel like I can be completely myself. The rest of the year, I have, for most of my life, been forced to live inside the shell of a firestorm of lies, and so have my Beloved Dead. You see, I bring most of mine with me, everywhere I go.
For the past twenty-four years, I have literally given over my life to being a shamanic trans-medium. When you say the word medium to most people, it either conjures images of some wizened old gypsy-woman, sitting in a trance in a very controlled environment, while the dead speak through her in her voice, or of some young, hip whipper-snapper who is constantly spot-on, but defines mediumship simply as relaying the messages of the dead to the seeker(s) (ala Hollywood Medium). Neither of those is what I do. I’m not that kind of medium. There is very little that is “controlled” about my environment–sure, we have wards on our house, and I have wards on my person, and I have a few in my “ranks” who actively act as guardian or warrior figures; that’s pretty much where any of the normal definitions of “controlled environment” begin and end. I can literally “switch off” with any of the members of my “ranks” at the drop of a hat, and with some of them, most Muggles would have zero clue that “Mishy has left the building”. I patently do not “channel on cue”; I don’t “take requests”; I’m not a deejay. What I do is not a “parlour trick”, nor is it a service I perform for the living. No, this is a service I perform strictly for the Dead. And these Dead have, over the past twenty-four years, become Beloved.
I’ve often been asked by those who actually understand what I do–such people are few and far between–precisely why I do it. I give up a lot of my time to do this; I have literally risked my life, my livelihood, and my relationships with other living people to do this. It would be so much easier simply to be the priestess, the Druid, the writer, than to do this. In fact, because I do this, I actually have very little time for all of those other things that I can do, and do well. So why would anyone choose this life? Because I love them. I love them with a love that is completely selfless, and very few people ever get to know love like that, much less express it themselves.
I certainly don’t do it because of what the Dead might teach me. Trust me, I’ve been “at this” long enough to know that just because they’re dead, doesn’t mean they’re smart! Contrary to apparent popular belief, death is not the sort of spiritual awakening most people seem to think it is. Does it clue you in, often quite suddenly, to what’s really going on in the Universe? Sure. It’s definitely a crash course in cosmology, not unlike being thrown into the deep end of the largest swimming pool imaginable. Most of the Dead I know and have met have been shocked by that, most of them to the point that they honestly need therapy: someone who can actively listen to what they’ve just experienced, and then help them make some sense of it. In fact, the “cosmic newsflash from the Great Beyond” that is that sudden dip in the “cosmological pool” is often so overwhelming that the Dead actually need a break from it. Luckily, I’m here, to give them that break.
Which works out nicely, because given my disability, I could also really use a break from my own body. Lots of people have psoriasis and/or psoriatic arthritis, and live with it every day. Very few people have psoriasis and/or psoriatic arthritis on the level that I have it. That’s not just my opinion: that is the very informed official diagnosis of the former head of Pediatric Dermatology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC). If you are not actively living in my skin–as my Dead do–you cannot fully understand what I live with, on a day-to-day basis. Imagine your own body attacking you. Pretend your skin breaks open and secretes acid whenever it takes a notion to do so, while at the same time your bones are eating themselves and erroding. That is what I experience every day. So, yeah, I need a break. Thankfully, my Dead love me back with that same selfless love, and are willing to step in and give it to me.
It’s rare that I get to use the personal pronoun “I”; most of the time, you will hear me refer to myself with what my Dead and some of my dearest live friends, relatives, and lovers have jokingly come to refer to as “the royal we”. That’s because the instant I stepped foot on this path, my life ceased to be merely about me. Suzanne jokingly referred to me today as the MDTA–Mass Dead Transit Authority–and she’s not wrong! My life has become the paragon of that famous quote from Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan: The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, or the one. Wherever I go, whatever I do, the Dead are not far behind. What happens in my life reverberates in their afterlives, and vice versa, when they are here on the physical plane, “riding” me, or “horsing” me, or however you want to describe them inhabiting my flesh and blood person. I have a responsibility to my Dead, and my Dead also have a responsibility to me. We keep each other safe; we work to better each other’s welfare. If you ever needed a real definition of what a symbiotic relationship actually is, take a look at our life, and you will find it.
Experiencing life (and death) in this way has taught me lessons in loyalty that most people never get to learn. The quickest way to end up on my shit list is to hurt or offend one of my Dead. I have both ended relationships with the living and had relationships ended for me by the living due to my ardent defense of my Dead. The Celtic Value of Loyalty informs everything I do in my life, and everything my Dead do in their afterlives, in relation to me, and this has been the case for twenty-four years between myself and Connla, twenty-two years between myself and Taliesin, and soon-to-be twenty years between myself and Michael. “Newcomers” (whom we lovingly refer to as “Newlydeads”) quickly learn the value of loyalty within the scope of this relationship, too. In the end, I don’t care if one of my Dead has been with me for two years or twenty: they’re already dead, they’ve been through enough; hurt or offend them at your own peril. I will become the protective mother (think: Kali-ma), when it comes to them, and that is a side of me nobody wants to see! They reciprocate that loyalty: hurt or offend me, their “vessel” or “conduit” (and also, more importantly, their new family), and be prepared for a reaction equal to someone defending their child, spouse, or mother from an arsonist.
These lessons in loyalty that I have learned in relationship to my Beloved Dead have often made it very hard for me to socialize with the living. In fact, for the most part, up until four years ago, I had reached a point where, apart from a very few live people, I honestly preferred the company of the Dead. The Dead don’t tend to stab you in the back as often as the living. Perhaps that’s because they can more clearly see all they stand to lose by doing so. The Dead don’t take a look at this particular situation and decide “oh, wait, I don’t believe in that”, or “I don’t believe in you”, or “I don’t believe this is actually happening”. The Dead don’t point their fingers at me and call me a devil worshipper or a fake. No, they are quite aware of what they are experiencing and what we are going through. The Dead don’t demand “prove its”. Live people tend to do all of that and more.
Which is why, when we moved North four years ago, and suddenly found ourselves in a whole new world (cue that song from Disney’s Aladdin), surrounded by people who actually understand what I can do, and what we are doing, we still didn’t tell those people what’s actually “going on” here. We finally found ourselves in a position where we were meeting people who we honestly wanted to keep in our lives, which is rare for all of us, myself included. We’ve lost more people than I care to count over the past twenty-four years because we were honest: because we told them what was “going on”, and they either:
Decided they needed a “prove it” (in other words, they wanted us to treat our lives like some damnable dog and pony show and somehow prove to them that this is actually “real” or authentic)
Decided they could dictate to me and my Dead who is in-body when (I’ve actually had at least one person turn to me, sitting here, spending time with them, as a friend, in my own body, and ask “when is Michael coming back, because I miss him, and really want to spend time with him instead”)
Stated they “believed in” all of this, until such time as said “belief” became somehow inconvenient to them (this one most often happens when the person in question has definite pre-conceived notions about precisely what kind of personality the specific Dead person involved ought to have, according to them. I often wonder what would happen in the world if we treated living people that way? It’s because of this one that every singly one of my Dead now introduce themselves under their taken names, and to most people never reveal their actual given name–and, therefore, their true identity–from birth and in life.)
Challenged me and my Dead to a face-off over afterlife cosmology, based on their own personal gnosis as a living person who has never actually been dead (Yeah, this one happens often, yet it never ceases to boggle my mind and theirs. I mean, if you’ve only read books and seen movies about Iceland, for example, you wouldn’t try to tell a native of Iceland that either a) Iceland doesn’t exist, b) is nothing like what they say it’s like, or c) that they are the tourist, and you’re the aficionado, would you? This is genuinely the exact same thing! Yet it happens to us. Regularly.)
Refused to obey our rules. (Look: our rules are simple, and really the same as in any other friendship with any other live person. Things told in confidence should remain in confidence. If you wouldn’t go around spouting to everyone within shouting distance a secret told to you by a live friend, then why the hell would you feel motivated to betray the confidences of the Dead? If you treat other live people with respect, not expecting them to jump through hoops or otherwise “perform”, why the hell would you do that to the Dead?)
It is still terrifying, every single time we “come out of the coffin” to someone we care about. It’s one thing, to be “out and proud”, here on this blog, where we’re speaking largely to strangers who we hope will become customers who we hope might become friends. It is another thing entirely to be face-to-face with someone you’ve come to know and love and worked hard to build relationship with and have to finally say “oh, by the way, all of the time that we’ve been growing attached to each other? Yeah, some of that time it was one of my Dead, not me, and they really care about you a lot, so please, don’t be one more person that we lose because of this….”
Inevitably, in the sorts of circles in which we now travel, there will be those people who will ask “but I, myself, am psychically aware, so how is it that I couldn’t tell this is what’s happening, if this is really what’s happening”? My response to those people is two-fold. First, if you have actually spent time around me, and then around Connla, Taliesin, or especially Michael, how could you not tell the difference between me and them? I am a girly girl with a fairly strong Southern accent (especially if you are hearing me for the first time and are not from the South), who enjoys dripping with jewelry and wearing long, flow-y skirts, and generally “being a chick”, versus Connla, who speaks with a deep voice (although he has, admittedly, and much to his chagrin, picked up a Southern lilt courtesy of living in the South for twenty years), dresses in a very masculine style, and saunters everywhere he goes like some action hero who just got kicked out of the comic books? Or Michael, who is obviously Australian. Second, after a decade or so of scaring the holy bejeesus out of small children who can most definitely see who is in here, whether they want to or not, my Dead have grown very skilled at cloaking themselves from “prying eyes”, willing or otherwise. The first hundred or so times that you have to turn to the parent of a suddenly-screaming child and say “I don’t know what I did to frighten your child, but I’m really sorry” teaches you to keep your guard up, and never let it down. Those first few hundred times when a kid calls the person in-body out as a dude, in an otherwise apparently female physical form, in the middle of Walmart also quickly puts the kibosh on not putting up a protective shield, lemme tell ya! Finally, and perhaps a bit too simplistically, my response to such people would be: “They’re people inhabiting a person. Do your psychic bells and whistles always go off, every time you’re around people inhabiting people? If so, that has got to suck for you!”
Most live people fear the Dead, and fear Death even more. I feel profoundly blessed that I no longer do. The Dead are just people. If you aren’t afraid of other live people, you shouldn’t fear them, either. Sure, over the years, I have had encounters with the angry dead, too. I don’t enjoy the company of live angry people–they, quite frankly, scare me–so it’s pretty natural to feel the same way when it comes to dead angry people. My solution, when it comes to them, is simple: they aren’t invited to “hang out”. Most people feel a certain sadness when it comes to speaking of the Dead, or dealing with Death. I’m not a stranger to grief, even though I know in my heart of hearts that it’s not like we “can’t keep in touch”. I’ve seen what the Dead themselves go through upon crossing over–how they miss their living friends, relatives, spouses, children the same way those living friends, relatives, spouses, children no doubt miss them. The Dead grieve the living, the same way we grieve the Dead. And that is painful to know and to watch. If I can afford them a momentary happiness, by letting them briefly “live” again, in the midst of all of that, I am honored to do so. But they are absolutely not allowed to ever make contact with those living friends, relatives, spouses, children, because I understand, and they have to come to understand, that the pain of such encounters would be debilitating for both parties involved. Why? Because of “prove it“. Because this is not the “Mishy Dead On Demand Network”. Because pre-conceived notions define belief in existence too often when it comes to this. Because the absolutely unavoidable debate on cosmology that is destined to ensue will do more to build sadness and anger than it will to quell it. Because, quite simply, these are our rules.
Long before Samhain became a time for me to honor the Beloved Dead, Halloween was a time when this little Southern girl could actually whip out the Ouija board and the Tarot cards and dress the way she wanted to, without anybody threatening to burn her at the stake (which actually happened to me in high school: a group of boys decided that because I was actively doing spellwork for my friends and reading Tarot that I should burn for that, and they meant it. While they never actually went through with attempting to carry out their threats, that did not make them any less real, nor any less terrifying). Over the past twenty-four years, Halloween also became a time when I could “let my Dead out in public”: they could actually go to the “redneck bar” dressed and behaving as themselves, without fearing any sort of backlash apart from “wow, Michelle always has the coolest and most authentic costumes! She even acts the part!”
As an ordained Druid and medium, however, Samhain has brought a much larger view of this time of year into my life. It is the Celtic New Year: a time when we let go of the old, and welcome in the new. It is also, obviously, the time when we Pagans pause to actively honor our Beloved Dead. Three-thousand-words-into this blog post (and thank you for sticking with me this far), that is why I am writing here today, rather than Connla or Frances or Taliesin or Tobias, or any of the others of my “possee”. I am here, writing this, because I am sick and tired of having to live behind a veil of lies, and so are they. Being forced to live our lives that way does not honor my Beloved Dead; it lessens them. So this is my “New Year’s Resolution”, of sorts:
Believe whatever you choose to believe; my Dead and I will continue to know what we know.
This is who we are. This is who I am, and what I can do. I love and honor my Dead, for I know that my Dead love and honor me. And for all of you out there who have loved and honored us in the same way: