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Courting Hela

Original votive art and blessing by Connla Freyjason. Please click to support us at Patreon.

 

The hour was late, and I sat in my office alone, save for the cat, everyone else in the house sound asleep. Outside my window, darkness, and the steady peeping of spring peepers (frogs) as the hours waned on towards three a.m. Normally at that hour, the house is still and peaceful; comforting, even. But as I rose that night to trundle my way to the restroom, there was the sound of a soft foot-fall on the stairs, and the hairs on the back of my neck rose to greet them, and I found myself filled with a profound sense of dread. Given Michelle’s propensity for trans-mediumship, and the nature of my own being, we get a lot of “astral traffic” in our house: random “dead-folk”, Alfar, Disir, and “Alfar-childer” (see Bene-Elohim in the Hierarchical Experiences of Alfar and Disir chart in my forthcoming book, Wanderer), as well as random Gods and Goddesses (most often Freyja, but sometimes Njordr or Freyr) are common and frequent visitors to our home, but there was something about this presence that registered as decidedly different from the list of “usual suspects”. And I found myself mildly afraid. Hela had come to call.

When you are what I am (a “dead guy”, who is maintaining a life here, courtesy of a very loving and gracious human host who happens to be a shamanic medium), Hela—our Norse “Goddess of Death”–is probably the last Deity on the list that you want to have visiting. The wheels in my brain immediately began turning to thoughts of “well, that’s it; I’m done. She’s finally come to claim me.” So I did what anyone faced with a topic they really don’t want to discuss might do: I tried to avoid the subject, went back to my desk, and tried to get back to business as usual. But Hela wasn’t having it: She came “right on in”, and took a seat in my floofy office chair. The hairs on the back of my neck maintained their erection, and a chill ran down the spine I share with my host, Michelle.

I continued to go on about my business, with Hela effectively “riding shotgun” behind me in the floofy chair, until it was time for me to say my nightly prayers and head to bed. Standing before my Main Stalli, I delivered my nightly litany of “thank yous” for all the good things—big and small—that happened to me and for me throughout that day, and then I turned to face Hela, who had come to stand on the right side of my altar:

“Hail, Hela-Lokisdottir; Wolf-Daughter; Keeper of the Dead! Yes, I know You’re here, and I honor Your presence. But I belong to Freyja and the Vanir, and have sworn to do Their work on this plane, so if You’re here to claim me, You’re gonna need to take that up with Them. If there’s something else You need me to do, to honor You or even my Ancestors, I’m listening and willing, within reason. But I have a wife and a family who depend on me, even though I’m dead; Michelle needs me, and so do my friends. So, hail and welcome, but those are my terms of frith.”

And I headed off to bed.

The next morning, I awoke to one of the worst outbreaks of pustular psoriasis we have ever experienced. I was in a lot of pain, with a sky-rocketing fever, and to say I felt lousy was putting it very mildly. Usually when we have an outbreak of that type (there are a lot of different types of psoriasis, and we’ve danced with all of them, at one point or another), it is because I (or Michelle) have experienced some sort of dramatic emotional trauma: a fight with a family member or a friend; grief; loss. None of those things had happened. It had been “business as usual” here at Casa de Connla-and-Suzanne. In fact, quite to the contrary: both myself and Michelle had been really happy lately. Yet, there it was, seeping and weeping all over the chest she and I share. And I was afraid, again: pustular psoriasis is one of two types of psoriasis that can actually kill you. But I got up and got dressed, and headed into my office to set to work on some new art and do my dailies on the Facebook circuit, to keep our business at the front of people’s minds.

As the day went on, I tried very hard to think of anything that could’ve triggered this sort of outbreak. The weather had been pretty great, so I could rule out humidity and heat (which also wreak havoc on our psoriasis). As I said, neither of us (me or Michelle) had been upset about anything whatsoever in recent memory. I finally settled on what we refer to as a “methotrexate reaction”: even though we are not on methotrexate, we mimic its use, combined with coal tar, in the treatment of our psoriasis by a steady internal intake of coal tar (via hand-rolled cigarettes) and folic acid supplements. It is very common for those who are being treated with a combination of coal tar and methotrexate to develop pustular psoriasis, so it made sense that what was happening to us right then was such a reaction. I stopped taking the folic acid and made the decision to begin better regulating our diet (we had been eating an enormous amount of foods rich in folic acid as well). Hela’s arrival the previous night as a possible cause never remotely entered my mind.

That night, in the wee hours, She came again, and as I stood at my altar for my nightly prayers, I gave the same prayer as the previous night. The next day, as I set to work, I felt myself “bashed over the head by Deity”: it’s a familiar feeling to me now, given my work with and for Freyja. A thought or command pops into your head, and you know you didn’t actually think of that, whatever it is: They did. Only this time, it wasn’t Freyja doing the bashing; it was Hela:

“You know, this would all go much more smoothly if you would actually honor your Ancestors.”

So I did as I was told: I got up out of my chair, selected an appropriate incense from my stash, lit it, and placed it on my Ancestor Stalli, and then gave my Ancestors their appropriate veneration. And my fever broke.

For about a week, things went on like this: in the wee hours of the morning, I would find myself intensely and inexplicably “creeped out”, and then I would see Her—Hela–and I would try to go on about my business, and at prayer time, I would offer that same prayer. During my waking hours, I would make offerings to my Ancestors whenever the fever got really out of control. Meanwhile, I continued to not take my folic acid and monitor my diet. I checked on other people’s UPG of Hela, and even asked around at a few of the Facebook Groups to which I belong, to see how other people were “coping” with Her presence. I began to leave the ashes of the incense I burned on my Main Stalli as an offering to Hela. I remained marginally terrified of Her.

She started “invading” my dreams. Where once I had experienced Freyja, now I experienced Her. It was in the dreamstate that She finally revealed to me what She had actually come for; turns out it wasn’t me at all. She was here for Michelle:

“You belong to Freyja. Michelle belongs to me. Make her know that.”

You would think, given our relationship as “horse and rider” (with Michelle being the “horse”, and me being the “rider”, via trans-mediumship), that Michelle would not be a “tough nut for me to crack”. And in thinking that, you would be so totally wrong! Michelle is one of the strongest and most strong-willed people that I have ever met, and that applies to everyone with whom she interacts, including me. No one can tell her what to think or believe; she thinks and believes for herself, all by herself. I mean, sure, don’t get me wrong here: she can be reasoned with. This isn’t some totalitarian situation; some Michelle-tatorship. But she is a firm believer in “just because they’re dead, that doesn’t mean they’re smart”, and part of how she arrived at that conclusion was living with me for two decades! Michelle has been a dedicant of the Welsh Goddess, Cerridwen, for as far back as I can really remember. She is an ordained Welsh Reconstructionist Ollamh (with a heavy Christian backbeat), not Heathen. To tell her that Hela had announced it was time for her to “switch gears”, or more aptly “switch boats midstream”, was going to go over like a lead balloon, even coming from me.

So the night came when I addressed that with Hela:

“Why me? I mean, why can’t You tell her this Yourself?”

And She replied:

“Because the only thing in the Nine Worlds from which Michelle does not constantly and consistently run away is you!”

And I really couldn’t argue with that. For all her strength, intelligence, and ability as a priestess and medium, Michelle definitely has a reputation for “hiding behind the couch” whenever anything “creepy” shows up, and I am, always have been, and always will be, the one who protects her. By having me “break the news” to Michelle, Hela was showing me the honor of recognizing me as Michelle’s “guardian angel”.

So I did as I was told.

And Michelle argued:

I’m not even Heathen!”

And I replied:

“I don’t think She cares.”

And she persisted:

“I belong to Cerridwen!”

And I countered:

“You’re a soft polytheist!”

Foot-stomping ensued on Michelle’s end of the conversation:

“I barely even practice right now! Well, I mean, apart from you know, you, and being a medium.”

And I smiled:

“Perhaps therein lies the problem….”

At the Temple of Witchcraft’s annual Beltane Rite, we were blessed with a pot of wormwood, which is sacred to Hela. Delighted (because she has had a longtime fascination with Artemesia Absinthium), Michelle declared:

“We can tend it together, and I will dedicate it as my first offering to Her. And when I can, I’ll procure some jet jewelry, and we’ll make this thing official. But you’re going to have to teach me, for a change.”

The pustular outbreak subsequently completely subsided; gone as quickly as it had come.

We leave offerings of ashes now on the Main Stalli for Hela, myself and Michelle together, and we’ve dedicated the bird skull figurine which we share to Her. And I’m slowly teaching Michelle what it means to be a Romantic Heathen, and preparing her to be for Hela what I aspire to be for Valfreyja. These are her first steps along a much wider path, and I am privileged to hold her hand as she takes them. All that she has taught me over the course of the past two decades has led up to this moment, as I sit here typing this. I never would have believed I could do this, without Michelle. She believes in me, and I believe in her, and now we both believe in Hela, and Michelle’s courtship of Hela has officially begun.

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Everyday Magick: A Most Un-Beltane-y Beltane

If you’re Pagan at all, you know that next week is a High Day: Beltane.  In the Welsh Druidic Tradition, it is called Nos Galon Mai, which translates roughly to “Night at the Heart of May”, which always struck me as odd, because the first of the month is hardly the heart of May, is it?  In our Grove, we’ve traditionally celebrated the marriage of Bloedwedd and Lleu as a part of our “ritual festivities”, and the symbols of fertility, Sovereignty, and Divine Union that can be found within that treasured myth.

But if you break down the story of Bloedwedd and Lleu, ultimately, it isn’t a story of any of those things–it’s a tale of betrayal.  And that’s pretty “un-Beltane-y”, to say the very least.  When you really break it down, it’s sort of on the same level as if Christians had a big important feast day to celebrate Judas Iscariot’s betrayal of Christ. I mean, yeah, that action was absolutely necessary to fulfil the Prophecy of the Messiah, but it still sucked out loud, when you really break it down, right?  The story of Bloedwedd and Lleu that comes down to us from the thirteenth century via the Mabinogion sucks on a Judas-Isariot-level, yet it is also absolutely necessary that it happen, in order for Lleu to truly claim his Sovereignty, just as Judas’ betrayal of Christ was necessary for Him to claim His.

So what is Sovereignty?  We’ve all heard it in the context of government–kings and queens are also called sovereigns, right? Or we’ve heard of the “sovereign state”: a governing body with absolute power.  If you take it back to the original Middle English (dating roughly to the period from which the Mabinogion hails), it means “alteration by influence of reign”–in other words, someone basically takes on a whole different set of natural characteristics when they become king or queen.  Keep in mind that we’re talking about a period in history when divine rule was an accepted “thing”; it was a fact of existence to people of that time that God Almighty placed whoever was on the throne on that throne in the first place. Also keep in mind that almost all of the extant Celtic Literature (and that includes the Irish ones) that we have to go on, and that mentions Sovereignty, comes down to us from this same period in history.

So, then, what is it, and how Celtic is it, as a concept, really?  How ancient is it as a concept? Is there actually any pre-Christian basis for it, or is this a Christian ideal dressed up in Pagan language?  Well, a bit of both, really…..

In modern Druidry (Historical Reconstructionist and otherwise), Sovereignty is still very much bound to the concept of rulership–of being king or queen of one’s own life.  We are all “altered by influence of reign”, but in order to reign in the first place, we must rule rightly.  So what the heck does that mean? It means to live one’s life as an exemplar of the Celtic Values/Virtues.  What’s an exemplar? It’s someone who is considered an example that deserves to be copied, which is what a good ruler should be in the first place, right? To use Christianity as an example for a moment: the reason that Christ is Sovereign is because He is an exemplar; we can see things in Him that should be actively copied in our own lives (which is what Christians are supposed to be doing with their lives: they’re supposed to be copying Christ).

So, going back to the story of Bloedwedd and Lleu–a story of betrayal, remember–what exactly are we supposed to be copying in it? Where or who is the exemplar in that equation?  If you don’t know the story, basically it goes a little something like this:  Lleu was the illegitimate son of Arianrhod (a Mother Goddess figure), and she was so embarrassed by his birth that she put a curse on him saying that he could never be Sovereign (or go through the rites of manhood which were at that time necessary to achieve Sovereignty).  She said he could never have a name, unless she gave it to him (so Lleu’s Uncle tricked her into giving Lleu a name); could never have a weapon (one of the Celtic symbols of coming of age as a man) unless she granted it (so Lleu’s Uncle tricked her into doing that, too), and could never take a “wife of woman-born” (so Lleu’s Uncles, who were also great magickians, gathered together flowers and herbs and made them into Bloedwedd, the Flower-Faced Maiden, so that she could be Lleu’s wife).  Ultimately, it’s a story that involves a lot of shame and trickery, and a certain level of entrapment (because all Bloedwedd really wanted to be was flowers, not a wife!).  So once she marries Lleu, Bloedwedd finds another man who treats her more like the flowers that she is, instead of like a wife, and she conspires with him to kill Lleu.

Because she is made of flowers and herbs, many Pagans (Druids included) have chosen to view Bloedwedd as representative of the Land.  In many Celtic tribes, part of the “coronation process” (the process of becoming king or queen) was a ritual wherein the one ascending the throne was literally married to the Land they would be governing (not just to the people who lived on that land, as we think of rulership today, but to the Land itself).  That view of Bloedwedd as the Land, combined with what we historically know about Celtic rites of kingship, is probably how this became “The Beltane Story” in many Pagan Circles and Druid Groves in our modern world.  But is she, really? I mean, is this just something we’ve all grafted on to this story–viewing her as representative of the Land–or is she really that, and if she is really that, what does it say (or should it say) to us that the Land (Bloedwedd) actively betrayed its Rightful Ruler (Lleu)?

If you’ve been following this blog and my Facebook Page for awhile, you’ve heard me speak of the Land often as part of the Sacred Three of Celtic/Druidic Tradition: the place of the Ancestors, and us.  Clearly, it involves a whole lot more than “just a bunch of flowers and herbs”!  That concept of the Land as the place of the Ancestors is the real reason why ancient Celtic rulers were married to the Land as part of their “coronation process”: it was a binding back to the Values/Virtues of those who had come before, and in order to be worthy to rule, one had to prove that they upheld that long line of Tradition.  Within the story of Bloedwedd and Lleu, we find a ruler (Lleu) who is bound to symbols of the land (note the little L there), instead of to the Tradition of the Land (see what I did there?).  No wonder he wound up betrayed!

That level of betrayal is what can potentially happen to all of us when we hinge our lives on symbols of what we think are Virtues/Values (or what we’ve been fed are authentic Virtues/Values), instead of on the actual line of Tradition that is the whole of Human Virtue/Values.  When we get so caught up in symbols, we lose sight of what is Real and what is Right; we lose our ability to be worthy to rule ourselves, much less anyone or anything else.  That, to me, is the real lesson of “The Beltane Story” of Bloedwedd and Lleu.  So, what is Real and what is Right, and why should I or anyone else get to define that? Isn’t that also a very slippery slope?

What is Real and what is Right is respect for all other humans, regardless of the labels which society may have placed upon them, as equals, until proven otherwise. I don’t get to define that, nor am I defining that: it simply is.  What does “until proven otherwise” entail, then? It means until they have proven conclusively that they do not value you or treat you with that same level of respect.  Rightful Rule means looking back over the history of our Ancestors and seeing where they got this simple principle right, and where they got it very, very wrong, and then actually learning from their mistakes, so that we do not ourselves repeat them.  That is what it truly means to be “married to the Land”. Anything less than that is but a marriage to symbols–like that of Bloedwedd and Lleu–and will lead us nowhere good…..

I invite you this Beltane to divorce yourself from symbols (from labels; from the boxes we put ourselves and other people in), and instead renew your vows to the Land: to what is Real and what is Right.  Bind yourself back to the tribe that is Humanity; let go of your religious or political or racial affiliations, and realize that you are human, and so is everyone else, and that we are all equally taking this journey together.  Make a commitment to be a bit more kind; to put the word human back in the word humane.  Treat strangers as friends.  Give voice to the otherwise voiceless.  Take your place as king or queen of your own life, and defend your Sovereignty with conscious acts of loving kindness. If we would all only take a moment to do just this one thing, what a wonderful world this would be…..

(For those interested, the people in the accompanying image are my Ancestors–my Welsh-descended Ancestors, to be exact: my Grandma and Grandpa Wilson.)