That’s right: Pre-Mother’s Night! That’s how I choose to view the American holiday of Thanksgiving, that oft-maligned feast of ultimate political incorrectness (Pilgrims and Indians, really?) that is, for most, an excuse to pig out on copious amounts of turkey and fall asleep watching football. It is also the ultimate Kitchen Witch’s holiday, and this year, I am looking very forward to actually being in the kitchen with my favorite Kitchen Witch: my Beloved, Suzanne.
“The Kitchen Witch of it all” is in large part why I see Thanksgiving as a sort of Pre-Mother’s Night celebration. For those unfamiliar with the Norse-derived observance of Mother’s Night, it traditionally falls on the eve before the Winter Solstice, and is more or less the “kick-off” of the Yule season (which either runs for the 12 days following December 21st, or from December 21-January 12, depending on your source material). It is a night to toast Frigga, Frau Holda, and Freyja, and also to honor the Disir, including those female ancestors who have paved the way for us. In other words, it is a night to thank those women (Goddesses, as well as goddesses-in-their-own-right) who were bastions of the Hearth and Home: we’re talking about more than the “glorified housewife” here, folks; we’re talking about recognizing women as the heart and soul and guardians of what it means to be us, as human beings. Since falling in love with Suzanne a few years ago, she has taught me that the heart of Kitchen Witchery is one very simple maxim: Food is love. If you’ve ever been blessed with eating her food, you know, as I do, that you can literally taste the love in it. And that is why Thanksgiving has become, for us, Pre-Mother’s Night: it is a time for us to begin (a bit early) to show our gratitude to the Disir, for in our house, we understand that gratitude is one of the most vital outpourings of love that anyone can give.
Subliminally, in my heart and mind, I have always understood Thanksgiving as a part of Yuletide. While everyone else is sitting around complaining that there are already Christmas decorations available at Wal-Mart in the heart of October, I am secretly rubbing my hands together in anticipation of the Yuletide cheer I can spread throughout our humble home. That has always been a part of me: long before I ever dreamed of becoming a chronic crafter, I was a chronic “Christmas nut”. Even as a child, I would get very upset if my Mother didn’t put up the tree before Thanksgiving, and many was the time that I was scolded for asking out loud (in the home of someone who had not dutifully decorated pre-Thanksgiving) “why don’t they have their tree up yet, Mama? Don’t they know it’s almost-Christmas?” Because to me, almost-Christmas was a holiday season unto itself: that quiet time before the holiday rush when people could actually contemplate and enjoy the Yuletide season.
My first year in Massachusetts, when November rolled around, I immediately began plotting almost-Christmas: “Look, Honey, we can put the tree up there, and I can do a glorious run of garland down that banister over there, and we can do another garland over the sink, maybe with peppermints? And we can cuddle on the couch and enjoy the warmth of all of it, and eat yummy things, and remind ourselves why we’re so thankful!” And she looked at me like I had lost my ever-loving mind! “It’s not even Thanksgiving yet! We don’t decorate for Christmas until December.” I was literally agape; I was horrified! No almost-Christmas? This cannot be! But there has been no almost-Christmas for four long years…..
Long before I was remotely Heidhrinn, I somehow understood that the period between Samhain (Alfablot) and the end of Yule was a season unto itself. Samhain (Alfablot) marks the beginning of a season when the “veils are thin”: it is understood as the beginning of the Dark Half of the Year in most Pagan circles in the northern hemisphere. At Samhain (Alfablot) the Dead and other denizens of the Otherworld begin to more easily make their way into our mundane world. That doesn’t end the moment you pack up your Halloween decorations; it is a phenomenon which continues through Yule, and even slightly after, until the dawn of February. It is a time for contemplation and introspection, but also a time for gratitude, that most sincere expression of love. And within that gratitude, we also find cause for joy: hence, Yule.
So pre-Mother’s Night may not officially be a “thing”, but it is at our house, and as we hurtle towards Thanksgiving on Thursday, here at our house, we will not only be preparing to pig out on turkey and fall asleep watching football. We will also be lighting candles and incense on our altars, placing images of our beloved female Ancestors in a prominent place upon them, and pouring blot to Frigga and to Freyja and to the other Disir. And I will be preparing those first forays of decorating for what I once called almost-Christmas, but now understand as that solemn time of quiet gratitude and love that lays the foundation for the joy of Yule. ‘Tis the season!
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.