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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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Romantic Heathenry: You’re Probably NOT Doing It Wrong!

Digital background paper, most masks, skull mala, and mandala rub-ons: Samsara (currently available; click image to shop). Horned god, spiral rub-ons, and journaler: Imramma (coming soon). Layout by Connla Freyjason.

Tired of being told “you’re doing it wrong”? You’re not alone! By some Heathens’ standards, I’m still relatively “new” at this, having only arrived at the Northern Tradition in my own spiritual practice roughly a year ago. Before that, I was raised Buddhist/Taoist with a minimalist Christian backbeat, before becoming a Druid (from a Welsh Historical Reconstructionist background) roughly twenty years ago. I dabbled in Kemeticism (Egyptian Reconstruction) for about a year in 2001, but that only really spoke to me on the surface, so I pitched my hat back into the Druidic ring, until Spring of 2016, when (what seemed like an endless stream of) historical research to “validate” my Welsh Druidic Path led me to my first brush with Heathenry. I’ve been working with the Norse Gods ever since. For the record: They aren’t the ones who keep chanting “you’re doing it wrong”!

 
No, I didn’t run up against the “you’re doing it wrong” mantra until I started spending a lot of time writing and creating art for other Heathens. Those who follow the Norse Tradition are an interesting mix of straight Historical Reconstructionists (“screencap of where it says that in the Eddas, or it didn’t happen, dude!”), Pagans with a Norse base (“I’m surprisingly okay with Unconfirmed Personal Gnosis”), Ceremonial Magickians who “dress up” their practice in strictly Norse trappings (“A little bit of Chaos Magick applied to 13th century Runic sigils is perfectly apropos”), and Brosatru Tagalongs (“Look at me, I’m a Viking!”), to say nothing of the Aryan Poster Children (“If your ancestors were not of white/Scandinavian descent, you shouldn’t be here. No, I don’t just mean in this group; I mean, like, on Earth…at all…”). Pardon me for the over-generalization there, but if you’ve ever even stuck your toe into an online Heathen group, you likely recognize all of the above. You probably have also had arguments with parties from at least one or more of these over-generalized groups in which they’ve patently told you “you’re doing it wrong”.

 
Face it: “you’re doing it wrong” is why most of us became Pagans in the first place! One too many hits with the “you’re doing it wrong, and will be eternally punished for having done so” schtick is the number one reason why most of us decided to divorce ourselves from mainstream Religion in the first place, whether that religion was of the Judeo-Christian variety, or something else. So why in the heck would that attitude be suddenly “okeydokey fine” and perfectly acceptable, simply because it’s all dressed up prettily in Pagan/Heathen clothing? World’s simplest answer: It’s not!

 
Unless you’re one of the aforementioned Aryan Poster Children, chances are grand that you are not, in fact, “doing it wrong”. You’re just doing it your way, and if you cannot be a true individual in relationship to your Deity/ies, then whatever religion you’re practicing isn’t a true one. What do I mean by that? In the immortal words of Ralph Waldo Emerson:

God enters by a private door into every individual.

Whether you choose to define your personal faith-practice as a religion, or whether you prefer the term spirituality, at the end of the day, when it is all said and done, your personal faith-practice is precisely that: personal. Ultimately, you chose to walk this particular path, out of all the myriad paths available, because of who you are, as an individual. So the only “wrong” way to “do it” is if it requires you to act contrary to that–contrary to who you are, as an individual—or if it requires you to crush the individuality of others. In the end, if you’re “not doing you”, and allowing others to “do them” wholeheartedly and completely on the daily, then, yes, you’re “doing it wrong”.

 
There are, of course, certain linchpins that set what you and I are practicing apart as specifically Norse. These are things or themes which define what we are doing in our daily practice as something specifically not other faiths, such as Christianity, or Buddhism, or Islam. In March of 2015, the California Court of Appeal established three objective guidelines of what actually constitutes a religion:

  • It must address fundamental and ultimate questions having to do with deep and imponderable matters;
  • It is comprehensive in nature, consisting of a belief system as opposed to an isolated teaching;
  • It often can be recognized by the presence of certain formal and external signs.

 
Addressing fundamental and ultimate questions includes providing answers to the “Six Big Questions” of human existence:

  • Who am I? (What defines me? Is there anything unique and special about me?)
  • Where do I belong? (Why do I feel so alone in this world? Where can I find acceptance? How do I form deep and meaningful relationships?)
  • What should I do with my life? (To what should I devote my life? What is my calling?)
  • How do I make the right choices? (How do I tell right from wrong? Ethical questions)
  • How can I be happy? (Is this all there is to life?)
  • What is the point of striving when life is so short? (What is the point of building something only to have it swallowed up by death?)

 

 

 

Obviously (I hope), different religions answer these Six Big Questions in ways specific to that religion. For example: the Christian answer to Who am I could be either “a child of God”, or a “brother of Christ”, or even “an inheritor of the Kingdom of Heaven”, whereas a Norse Traditional answer to that same question might be “I am a spouse/lover/child of Freyja (or other Norse Deity)”, or a “brother of Thor (or other Norse Deity)”, or even “an agent on Earth working to the benefit of the Aesir/Vanir/Rokkr”. In other words, how these questions are answered from a Norse Traditional perspective is part of what makes your path specifically Norse/Heathen.

 
The second part of those three guidelines, that what you believe in is “comprehensive in nature, consisting of a belief system as opposed to an isolated teaching”, means that your faith-practice includes more than “edicts of behavior” or even an “edict of behavior”, but also includes a cosmological framework that includes an afterlife, deities, etc. Part of how we arrive at this “comprehensive nature” lies in how we answer questions five and six of the Six Big Questions. Again, this will be distinct from religion to religion. For example: Christianity is composed of far more than “an isolated teaching”, regardless of how many picket lines you see full of signs emblazoned with quotes from Leviticus. There’s more to it, as a faith, than the Ten Commandments, or even the Great Commandment of the New Testament; there is also a distinct cosmology (whether one considers the “spiritual landscape” of Heaven/Earth/Hell, or even the numerous hierarchies of angels), a defined Deity (or, as most Christians would likely not appreciate me pointing out: Deities, including God The Father, Jesus Christ, and Sophia, aka the Holy Spirit). By the same token, Norse Tradition/Heathenry consists of far more than simply the edicts of the Aesirian Code of Nine or even the Havamal from which it is (in part) based. There is, likewise, also a cosmology (the Nine Worlds), and a series of numerous defined deities and “spirits” (such as the Alfar, the Disir, and the Landvaettir).

 
Finally, a specific religion can be recognized by its own distinct formal and external signs, such as defined places of worship, specific religious texts, and the rituals it enacts. Christianity has the Catholic Mass, its churches (Protestant, Catholic, and Orthodox, all of which generally possess architecture unique to the Christian faith), The Bible, and the common practices of tithing, praying, and performing acts of charity (when they aren’t “doing it wrong”!), while Islam has mosques, The Koran, and the common practices of praying, fasting, making pilgrimage, and almsgiving (again, when they aren’t “doing it wrong”!). Likewise, in the Northern Tradition we have the Ve and the Hof, the Eddas and Sagas, and the common practices of blot, sumbel, sacrifice, and prayer.

 
You may or may not be doing your Norse Faith the same way as the other Historical Reconstructionists, Norse Pagans, Runic Ceremonial Magickians, or even the Brosatru, but if you are answering the Six Big Questions with distinctly “Norse-motivated” answers; if you believe in the Nine Worlds, and in the Aesir, Vanir, Rokkr, Alfar, Disir, And Landvaettir; if you worship at a Ve, a Hogr, or a Hof via blot, sumbel, sacrifice, and prayer and use the Eddas and Sagas as your sacred texts, then your faith is distinctly Norse. It just happens to also be distinctly your own interpretation of the Norse Tradition, and if it is effectively answering those Six Big Questions, while in the process making your life and the lives of others better, then you’re definitely not “doing it wrong”!

 
In my own personal practice, I employ my own brand of soft polytheism, which is a sort of “polytheistic monotheism”, combined with “light reconstruction” and a heavy Druidic backbeat, with strong shamanic overtones. Lots of card-carrying Heathens would likely not only tell me I’m “doing it wrong”, but positively scream it! In fact, some might even disparage me even claiming the titles “Heathen” or “Norse Traditional Paganism” at all for what I personally practice, even though it definitely shares all of the aforementioned features of what would make a faith system distinctly Norse (or Norse-driven, Norse-derived, or even Norse-inspired). That being the case, I’ve recently begun referring to myself as a “Wanderer”, and to what I practice as “Wandering”–or, at least, I’ve begun doing so in private and with those closest to me. More accurately, a lot of what I practice might be termed “Heathen Revivalism” or “Romantic Heathenry”, in the same manner and tone as Celtic Revivalism: an attempt to practice a Norse religion or spirituality within the context of the modern world, while drawing from the historical reservoir of Norse Tradition and sometimes merging it with traditions and practices that are not necessarily strictly Norse in an effort to embrace the spirit of ancient Norse religion. This is my official invitation to you: come and walk alongside me, down this winding road together, for a mile or two or three. I will not tell you that “you’re doing it wrong”, if you’ll pay me the same courtesy. Nor will I try to tell you that my way is the right way for you, for it may not be. Ultimately, I do not own this road; only the feet that carry the heart that walks it. Some parts of this map may work for you; others may not. They all work for me, but your mileage may vary….

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International Women’s Day: A Male CEO Celebrates His Boss-Lady

All elements from Iaconagraphy’s upcoming ArtLife, by Connla and Francis.

As the male CEO of a heart-centered, woman-owned business, International Women’s Day is possibly a bit more “earth-shattering” for me than for the “average male”.  My situation–that Michelle is not only my “Boss-Lady”, but also my “home address”, given that she’s how I have a life here at all, thanks to shamanic mediumship–makes this an even more profoundly personal day for me, as a “dude”.  Striking a balance in my situation is (not gonna lie) often tough: I’m often left with the feeling that I “do all the work”, while she “gets all the glory”, and sometimes, that can be disheartening; other days, that can be downright painful.  Too many days, I forget to just stop and celebrate all the wonder that is her. Today isn’t going to be one of those days!

Michelle Iacona is an amazing woman who was forced to live in a “cage” for far too many years of her life.  So many, in fact, that she almost forgot how to soar free, like the brilliant phoenix that she is.  But that’s another part of my job description:  I’m often her flight instructor!  (Well, one of them, anyway–Suzanne deserves a lot of credit in that department, too!)  All those years, having to hide the true depth and breadth of who and what she is, have left some major scars.  Scars so deep that when the tough gets going, so does she: right back into the comfortable confines of that cage.  Which is how I wound up the CEO of a woman-owned business.

I spent two decades down South, “pretending to be Mishy”, and even though we’re up North now, where we both can be completely who and what we are, two decades is a long time, and it’s hard to shake those learned patterns of behavior.  Too often, in certain circles, I still find myself aching under the strain of feminine pronouns and “keeping up appearances”.  The truly tragic thing is, so does she.  Michelle is such a powerhouse that, honestly, “her” or “she” are words-too-small-for-her; Mishy should be (and often is in our house) a pronoun in and of itself!  That “pretending” pattern, even though we’re in a position now to unlock ourselves from it, too often leads both she and I to feel that we cannot or do not get credit for what we, as distinct individuals, do or have done: I’m the primary artist here at Iaconagraphy now, as its CEO, but Michelle is profoundly gifted as an artist in her own right (she paints beautifully; she’s incredible at papercrafting; her pen and inks are a marvel), she just doesn’t really “have it in her anymore” to put it out there, publicly.  I’m the one doing ninety percent of the writing nowadays, but she has self-published four books, two of which are available here , and two more via Smashwords, is writing another (that I fear may never see the light of day), has a degree in English (with emphasis on Creative Writing), has taught creative writing classes, and has actually won numerous awards for her writing.  Those are some mighty big shoes to fill as CEO of this business, and trust me, even though I “wear” her feet, I often feel daunted in trying to fill them.

Michelle grew up in a small town in rural North Carolina where she was literally a local celebrity for too often being “the smartest person in the room”, as she puts it. With that, there came the constant (they thought) encouraging words of: “One day, you’re really going to make a name for yourself and be rich and famous”.  People expected something truly great from her; the problem is, they expected their definition of it.  Their definition of “making a name for herself” and “being rich and famous” meant getting published with a major publisher, or perhaps gaining a teaching position where she might teach something they would actually understand, or at the very least, approve of, and making tons of money from either or both.  Instead, she’s in her mid-forties, self-published (and proud of the independence that brings), and teaching this one guy (that would be me!) every day what it means to truly be alive.  And she has made a name for herself:  she’s an ordained Ollamh (Druidic vision-poet-priest), who helps guys like me every day of her life by stepping out of the way and letting us actually have one.  She might not be rich and famous by their definition, but she certainly is by the deeper definition of both of those words: simply knowing her enriches the lives of everyone who truly knows her, and she is, in fact, famous by the older definition of that word, too. She is a woman of Honor.

Too often people assume that Michelle channels as a mechanism of somehow “running away” from her life, but the truth is, while she has plenty of good reason to run away (and plenty to run away from), quite the opposite is true: Michelle channels as a mechanism of running toward, not away.  Every day that she lets me be here and run this business for her, she is running toward her greater purpose, a purpose that all of those people who fed her “one day, you’re really going to make a name for yourself and be rich and famous” can barely imagine, much less fathom.  What purpose could that possibly be, you may ask? To show everyone that the world is a much larger place than most people can begin to understand.

And that’s the purpose that it’s my job to help fulfill, and to put forward with everything I do here as CEO of Iaconagraphy.  That’s the purpose that all of the artists that work in her employ, all of whom are permitted to be here through the simple fact that Michelle can do what she does (as a shamanic trans-medium), are expected to uphold and further through their work.  That’s a huge obligation to fulfill!  And we all take it very seriously.  Because at the end of the day, Iaconagraphy is about more than one woman’s dream of finally living up to their definition of what it means for her to be great; it’s about way more than just slapping some things together and calling them art; it’s about way more than making a dime so that all of us herein can have a wee bit of financial independence and no longer feel like a burden to those whom we love and who (thankfully) love us in return.  At the end of the day, Iaconagraphy is about waking people up to their own human spirit, and realizing that their human spirit is enough.

Other people’s definitions of you and of the world don’t matter.  They aren’t going to pay your bills, and they certainly aren’t going to teach you how to fly; how to really be free.  No: they’re only going to oppress you and cage you.  My Boss-Lady has been teaching me that for twenty-four years, and I am deeply humbled that she has entrusted me with taking the helm to share her message with all of you.  Every man in the world has had a woman, somewhere in his life, who has taught him how to more deeply be.  Women have a way of teaching that lesson to the world that most men simply don’t. Maybe it’s because they are more tightly bound to the process of Creation itself; maybe it’s because they are genetically designed to nurture and give life. I don’t know; those are questions too large for me to answer.  But what I do know, from twenty-four years of being gifted with inhabiting a woman’s skin, is something perhaps even more profound:  deeply being has nothing to do with the exterior skin that you wear, and everything to do with how gracefully you wear it!  I haven’t always worn Michelle’s as gracefully as I should, but I’m learning, day by day.  And I’m learning from her….