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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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Finding Freyja

Original digital painting by Connla Freyjason (working under the pseudonym “The Warrior”), April, 2016. Available as wall art via clicking this link.

 

Every Friday, without fail, I pour blot to Freyja. I began this weekly ritual in April of 2016, after She came to me in a dream, and claimed me as Her own. Those first few weeks, I knew Her only as “Freyja, Queen of Cats”; a gentle presence, not unlike the huge felines who pull Her chariot, or even our own family cat, Kili, who could creep into a room quite unnoticed, yet fill the entire place with reverberating love, and passion that was quick to rise, sometimes even baring claws. With my whole heart, I poured a sweet red wine blend for Her, and I spoke the few kennings I knew, as well as the one She had, in fact, taught me: “Freyja, Queen of Cats”. And then I poured out my heart to Her. Every Friday, without fail.

On the twenty-seventh of February in 2017, I finally realized that I should take the plunge, and dedicate myself to the service She had already chosen for me. Two nights prior, I had participated in a Dark Moon Ritual at Enchanted Shop in Salem, Massachusetts, led by Priestess Renee Des Anges. During the meditation portion of that ritual, I was gifted a bind rune by The Lady: Algiz, Sowilo, Wunjo.

Algiz is a warrior’s rune. I wouldn’t fully understand the depth of Her gifting it me until two months later, when it finally dawned on me the form in which She had first chosen to visit: Valfreyja. For several years, I worked under the pen name “The Warrior” as an artist; my Beloved, Suzanne, in fact calls me “Her Warrior” as a pet-name. So it’s quite appropriate that Freyja first made Herself known to me as Valfreyja; it’s not Her fault that I’m more than a little slow on the uptake! Algiz is also the rune repeated on the Helm of Awe, a galdrastafir to which I have been heavily drawn from the first moment I saw one over a year ago. It is a rune of protection. It is also a rune of friendship with the gods, and of communication with Higher Powers. Message received.

Sowilo is a rune of promise, strength, warmth, and joy. It is the sun melting the snow with the promise of Spring; success, when we think all hope has otherwise been lost. These are the very things She had come to be to me over the course of the preceding year: when things were at their absolute darkest, Freyja always was there. And She reminded me to hope; She reminded me constantly that I am an artist, and that the Way of the Artist has never been easy, but has always been worthwhile. Message received.

Wunjo is as close as a rune can come to true bliss; a rune of “happily ever afters”. It is a rune of fulfillment, but it is also a rune of bonds forged: the bond of a friend to a friend; of lover to lover; of Goddess to Dedicant. It brings transformations of the best kind; the kind where one stops feeling like an outsider and becomes a part of something greater than themselves. Message received.

It was time; She had told me so. Now the question became: how does one “perform” a dedication to a Deity in the Norse Tradition? I had no clue. Certainly, I had read about others who had done so—Cara Freyasdaughter had written some wonderful articles on the topic at Huginn’s Heathen Hof—and I knew that there was a certain measure of “contractual deal making” that took place within a ritual context when “finally taking the plunge” with a Norse Deity, but that was pretty much the extent of my knowledge on the subject, apart from my previous experience as a Welsh Druid. Still, I wasn’t exactly “going in blind”: I had, after all, spent the last year getting to know Her better, both in a ritual setting (during our Friday blot), and in a research capacity. So I did what I almost always do with everything that I’m passionate about in my life: I jumped in with both feet.

Rather than use a simple white candle as I normally do when creating sacred space, I chose a lavender chime candle from my “stash”, and with my ritual dagger, I carved upon it the bind rune which She had given me. I then placed it in the small holder which I keep within the cast iron cauldron (which I also use as my hlaut-boll) on my altar, and set about creating sacred space. It isn’t often anymore that I do the full rite before my altar: as I’ve said before, I’ve called sacred space into being so many times in that area that it’s practically a permanently liminal space. But that night, I felt driven to do so. She told me to do it; and I did as I was told.

How do you know when the gods are telling you to do something? Sometimes it may come as it does when any physical person tells you to do something: in the form of an audible voice. Other times, like that night, it may come in the form of a burning need. Suddenly, you feel driven to do something, with every fiber of your being, often to the point of actually feeling physically ill if that thing is not done. That night was like that: if I had not called the space with the full rite, I knew instantly that I was going to suffer for not having done. There would be a definite headache. There might also be nausea. So I went for it. Like I said: I did as I was told.

I centered myself. I laid the fence—every movement purposeful and driven. And then I lit the lavender candle which I had inscribed with the bind-rune, and I stared deeply into it, letting my mind go blank as one typically does with candle-scrying. And She stood there, in the flame. I saw Her again, as I had that night a year past, in my dreams. And I apologized for being “a little bit slow” mentally, and then I told Her what She already knew:

I belong to you.

And then my promises to Her—the conditions of my service to Her—flowed out of me, not in some makeshift version of a legalese contract, but in poetry:

I am the
Walker Between The Worlds;
I am the Raven
On the wing,
And I sing the
Song without the
Words,
For I have no
Voice to bring.
Yet still with this
Voice
That is
Mine-not-mine,
I raise that
Voice
And sing.

All elements and words, Connla Freyjason for Iaconagraphy. Digital painting featured at center is available on a host of products at Red Bubble, via clicking this link.

My “adventures in galdr” began the very next day, and I’ve been on that song-filled journey ever since. She chose me to be Her servant; I take no titles for myself, except those She might give to me in future. It doesn’t seem to matter at all to Her that my singing voice is very much like that of the raven that is my fylgja: I squawk to the glory of the gods now on a regular basis! And I know that each time I do, I am doing right. Singing for Her fills me up as few things ever have.

I’m glad I finally “bought a clue”. I’m glad I finally found Freyja. I’m glad She took the time to find me.

 

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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….