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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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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….

 

 

 

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Artist Journaling As Votive Art

Background paper: January Gathering: Winter Wonder: Winterfell; Skeletal Deer: January Gathering: Winter Wonder: WinterTime; Branches: January Gathering: Winter Wonder: Winterfell; Page Blend: January Gathering: Winter Wonder: A Winter’s Tale; Rune: upcoming; Antlers: upcoming; deer on left: The Graphics Fairy; Verse: Traditional (Christian) hymn.

By now, most of you know exactly what artist journaling (AJ) is, but what the heck is votive art, and what does it have to do with what we do here at Iaconagraphy, and what you might be doing with our yummy digital assets? 

Votive Art: art that is offered, performed, or created in fulfillment of a vow, or in gratitude or devotion.

The image at the head of this post is a piece of digital votive art.  So are these:

Background Paper: January Gathering: Winter Wonder: A Winter’s Tale; Journal Block: January Gathering: Winter Wonder: A Winter’s Tale; Seashells: By The Sea (will be re-released); Page Blends: Notions: Masked 1: Ornate; Owl upcoming. Prayer by Xan Folmer, Huginn’s Heathen Hof.
Background Paper: January Gathering: Winter Wonder: Winterfell; Sword: January Gathering: Winter Wonder: Winterfell; Page Blend: January Gathering: Winter Wonder: WinterTime; Rune, upcoming; verse original by Connla; image featured in page blend is Tyr and Fenrir by Viktor Rydberg and is in the open domain.

Votive art can be created as a gift for Deity for some blessing which has come into your life (which is the case with all three of these), as an act of devotion (in the same way one might sing a hymn), or as the fulfillment of a vow (i.e., you promise Deity you are going to make something beautiful in their honor, and then you actually do).  Votive art can also act as sort of a “digital altar”: you may not have enough room on a physical altar for all of the images you create (or even for one more item, for that matter, even if it’s just a tiny piece of printed paper), but how might it change your life if you could set a piece of votive art that you’ve created as your desktop on your computer? Or as the main screen on your phone? Or maybe even as a Facebook header or avatar?  

We’ve spoken (briefly) in the past about paper magick, but the concept of votive art sets that concept completely apart from active spellwork (which, let’s face it, a lot of you are coming at this from a Christian background, and are probably wondering where you fit into this topic at all, and y’all definitely aren’t doing spellwork, at least not in the classical sense of that word).  And paper magick is great (I do it every chance I get, and no, I don’t mean active spellwork–I mean creating with paper for the glory of Deity, ala the Christian verse, Romans 12:1), but let’s face it, we live in a digital world.  Most of us are going to be spending far more time with pixels than with paper, and wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could find a way to actively bring our spirituality into that digital world?

Digital AJ as votive art makes that completely possible, and not just for Druidic-based Heathens like me, but for any of you, no matter what your Faith-base.  In the Determined to Shine 30 Days of Artist Journaling Group on Facebook, I have seen some of the most beautiful and heartfelt Christian votive art you’ve ever laid eyes on! It’s so honest; so deeply felt, and it frequently hits me right in the heart.  This isn’t just a concept for the “Pagan Community”; it’s actually a thing that’s as old as time, I’m just working to get you looking at it in a different way.

We are, in fact, called Iaconagraphy in the first place because it is a play on the term iconagraphy, particularly as it relates to religious iconagraphy.  (Iacona, of course, being the last name of the woman who makes all this amazing-ness possible!)  

Iconagraphy: the traditional or conventional images or symbols associated with a subject and especially a religious or legendary subject.

So I think it’s high time we discussed the offerings here at Iaconagraphy in that context, and in the process, talked about what you can do with all of these assets in that context.  I’ve honestly considered at some point offering an online course on the topic, in a similar vein to Tangie Baxter’s courses on Symbology (I’d love to get feedback on how many would be interested in such a thing!).  For now, though, this blog entry will let us all “dip our toes” in that particular pond.

Where does one start with creating a piece of votive art?  Let’s talk about that specifically with a gratitude focus (because I’m feeling particularly thankful right now, and because gratitude is something we could all use a little bit more of in our lives).  When someone does something particularly nice for us, we might send them a thank you card, right? Why can’t we do the same thing to God/dess?  

  • Start by thinking of something for which you are particularly grateful, and which you know would never have happened without Deity. (Which can be literally anything!) 
  • What color does that thing for which you are showing gratitude make you feel?  Something having to do with money might feel green, for example; something having to do with health issues or healing might feel red or purple.  Choose your background paper based on this. (If you’re coming from a Pagan/Heathen base, there might be specific color correspondences that relate to the particular Deity you’re thanking, or to the “subject matter” of what you’re giving thanks for; use that!)
  • You may have elements or photographs which relate to the thing for which you are giving thanks (or even to the particular Deity you’re thanking).  Start choosing your elements (and photographs) based on this. If you have photographs, you may also want to start thinking in the direction of which page blends/photo masks to employ in the creation of your page.
  • Start arranging your elements and photographs in a way that feels both pleasant and grateful. (In other words, you want it to be aesthetically pleasing, because, I mean, who wants an ugly thank you card? But you also want to infuse the image you are creating with your personal gratitude.) I strongly recommend working in layers!
  • Once your images have been arranged, create a layer for your journal blocks and journaling.  You may not want journal blocks; you may wish to write directly on the background paper, or even on one of the elements or the image itself: that’s okay! Do what feels right to you!
  • When everything is “just so”, merge layers and save in whatever format suits your needs.

And what should you do with this votive art, now that you’ve created it?  You can set it as your desktop on your computer/laptop, or as your phone’s main screen, as a way of “sending” it (as far as I know, Deity doesn’t have a physical mailing address!), or if you’re bold, you can post it to Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram, and remind the world to be a little more grateful, too. And, of course, you can always feel free to come over to the Iaconagraphy Page and share with all of us there! You can also, if you feel so inclined, actually print it out and place it on your altar (or even on a bulletin board/vision board in your home).  

This is definitely a practice and a topic which is personally speaking to me right now, and which is creating blessings in my life which I honestly never would have dreamed possible (until they actually happened!).  If any of you would like me to further explore (and give a mini-step-by-step like the one above) on votive art from a devotional or vow-fulfilling perspective as well, just let me know in the comments below, or comment at Facebook. And if you’re interested in an actual online course on AJ as votive art, feel free to let me know that in the comments below or on Facebook, as well. Our 2017 promise to all of you to be “unboxed, uncaged, and unfettered” seems to be resonating with many of you, and this is definitely in line with that, and it feels spectacular!