The Road to Hel

 

They say “The road to Hel is paved with good intentions.”

(Yes)

(And Intestines, the restless writhing mess,
it is paved with the teeth of the dead
from mouths made sour by words unsaid

Its paved with the sharp shins,
the straight spines shattered,
the knee of those who remain unbending

The Road to Hel is paved with the skulls of your enemies
If thy enemies are Cowardice, Shame and Fear
for it is that conquered road which will bring peace.

Its paved with the hands of many
untold ages, lifting you up
guiding you to a long Remembered place.

The Road to Hel is caked with the mud
of ten hundred thousand times ten thousand journeys
and the strange prints of those who came before.

Its lit with the stories
of the walks to this door:

“Life is a slow march towards Death”

and

“You have gone nowhere Someone hasn’t walked before”

and that on this road, is comforting.)

Yes.

The Road to Hel is paved with good intentions.

—-
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The Road To Hel by Úlfdís is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

Deity and the Divine – Angrboda and Hearts

As I’ve mentioned in my previous posts on Angrboda in the Deity and the Divine series, one of the symbols that has been the primary focus of my iconography for Her has been the heart – primarily an anatomically correct human heart. The heart is also the primary connection between a variety of stories in the Northern Tradition.

Both the story of Gullveig and the story of Angrboda’s Children tell how each Goddess was speared and burned three times.

In the Voluspa (Bellows translation):

21. The war I remember, | the first in the world,
When the gods with spears | had smitten Gollveig,
And in the hall | of Hor had burned her,
Three times burned, | and three times born,
Oft and again, | yet ever she lives.

22. Heith they named her | who sought their home,
The wide-seeing witch, | in magic wise;
Minds she bewitched | that were moved by her magic,
To evil women | a joy she was.

The first war was instigated when the Van-allied Gullveig was speared and burned upon her visit to  Odin (Har)’s Hall in Asgard.She was reborn as the volva Heith, much beloved by ‘evil’ women/witches/troll women.

Later, in the poem Hyndluljoth (Bellows translation)

43. A heart ate Loki,– | in the embers it lay,
And half-cooked found he | the woman’s heart;–
With child from the woman | Lopt soon was,
And thence among men | came the monsters all.

After having consumed this heart, Loki then gave birth to monsters and witches – because of this the connection is made between the heart and Gullveig.

In Thursatru tradition, the Heart of Gullveig is held to be the seed of chaos; black, rime-cold, glacier made from the primordial black ice. The Cosmic Fire of the Aesir could not burn a heart so cold, and merely half singed it. This heart is Her ultimate Thursian essence.

In the story of Angrboda’s Children, as told by Her to Raven Kaldera, Angrboda is lured out of the Ironwood by Odin, and comes to Him in Asgard.

“The Hag of the Iron Wood stepped carefully into the great banquet-hall, feeling very much the barbarian. A great feast was served, of which she ate little, waiting for Loki to be spoken of. Perhaps he is imprisoned, she thought. Finally she could wait no longer, and turned to Odin. “Where is my fool of a husband?” she asked. “Is that not why you have brought me here?”

“My business with you does indeed involve Loki,” Odin said. “Give me a moment, and I will have this business brought to you, that you might advise me on it.” And he stood, ready to leave the hall, and yet before he left he hesitated. He looked upon the tall, proud giantess in her cloak of furs, and he bowed before her respectfully, and Angrboda saw a sorrow in his demeanor. Then he left the hall, and she sat with furrowed brow, waiting.

He had been gone but a moment when she realized that with Odin’s departure, all others in the hall had also gone, and she was alone. Sensing danger, she started to her feet and drew her blade – she had wondered why Odin had not insisted that she give up her sword – but there was no one to fight. Then, in a split second, the entire hall burst into flames. Fire ran down the tables as if oil had been poured over them, and the roof was an inferno in moments. Angrboda’s long red hair was the first to catch, and she went up like a torch, screaming curses.

Odin and those trusted few who had come to the feast watched the hall burn, and heard Angrboda’s screams. The fire-spell was a dangerous one, and cost Odin dear, but he dared not let her get to the door of the hall to fight. As they watched, the roof fell in, and they saw her figure like a torch, stumbling through the debris. Slowly, slowly, she peeled the flame from her blackened body, and fell to her hands and knees on the earth. They heard her mumbling magics, and saw that her skin was beginning to grow back, her charred flesh to heal. Amazed and chagrined, Odin threw a second fire-spell, and the flames attacked her once more. A second time she burned, and a second time she struggled to her feet and began to use her magics to survive. A third time he hurled the spell, though it cost him so dear that he nearly collapsed, and had to be held on his feet. This time, the giantess did not rise from the flames; they consumed her until nothing was left but a heap of ashes, with her charred heart in the middle.”

Once consumed, Her children were stole away and banished – one to the ocean, one held hostage, and one to Hel. Later, when Loki arrives on the scene;

“For Loki had arrived at night, while Odin was looting his wife’s house, and some took joy in telling him of the death of the Hag of the Iron Wood. He rushed to the hall, which was still roaring in flames, but he had not learned nothing from his foster-father Surt the Black. Leaping through the flames unharmed, he found Angrboda’s burned body, which crumbled at his touch. All that was left was her ashen heart, still solid, so he placed it next to his and fled Asgard as fast as he could.

When he reached her hall, he found it plundered and burned, and her kinsmen dead, and his children gone. He screamed and raged, and the folk of the Iron Wood arose, and they all wept and raged with him. They would have marched on Asgard as they were, armed only with their fury and rude weapons, but Loki recovered himself enough to stop them. “There has been enough death for one night,” he said. “Now it is time to undo at least one of them.” And he placed Angrboda’s ashen heart on the hearth of the burned hall, and took a knife and let blood onto it from his arm, and every one of her kinsmen in the Wolf tribe came forward also and let their blood drip, so that the hearth ran with blood. As the sun rose and the word spread, Jotnar from the other tribes came as well, and may of them shed their blood for her life also, as Loki danced about the hearth and the Wolf tribe howled a strange song.

It is said that half the luck of the Iron Wood clans went into that spell, but that not a one of them ever regretted it. Even those who did not love the wolf-chieftess would rather have seen her alive than bear this insult from the Aesir, so even the trolls from the Hound-Beetle tribe came, and some of them shed blood for her – not for herself, they said, for the Wolf tribe had often fought with them, but because her daughter Hela was much beloved of them. And when the thunderstorm rose that night, Farbauti’s son called lightning down to strike that bloodsoaked hearth, and Loki’s spell came true. Angrboda rose again alive from the ashes of her heart.”

Clearly, these stories are different, but they also strongly echo the same themes, particularly that of renewed life from the remains of a heart.

It is my personal feeling that both of these stories are correct, and that Gullveig-Angrboda was burned and renewed at two separate occasions; at the dawn of the world, She was allied with the Van, and using the name Gullveig visited the Aesir, and Her poor treatment as Their ally sparked the First War.

Gullveig-Angrboda’s rebirth is another indication of Her connection to the Van. The Vanir are fertility and agricultural Powers, part of the Life-Death-Rebirth cycle; some hold the UPG that the Van’s strength in battle during the First War was the magic of Freya, bringing the fallen Van warriors back, so they could arise from death and fight again. Ultimately the First War ended in a standstill, and a peace was negotiated between the two tribes, and hostages exchanged.

Throughout both the known recorded lore, and the UPG and PCPG of spirit workers, the has been a noted good relationship between the Vanir and the the Jotunfolk, including intermarriage (both Frey, and his father Njord, married Jotunwomen, to varying degrees of success.)

One more historical saga has a tale about hearts has ties to Angrboda; the Volsung Saga has the story of Sigurd slaying the dragon Fafnir. (see my previous posts above which further explain how I came to connect Angrboda with the Volsungs) After having slain the dragon, Regin asked Sigurd to give him Fafnir’s heart to eat. Sigurd had consumed some of the dragon’s blood, and thus learned the language of the birds, who told him how Regin was planning to betray him and advise him to kill Regin first. . Sigurd beheads Regin, roasts Fafnir’s heart and consumes part of it. This gives him the gift of “wisdom” (prophecy). As previously discussed, Angrboda is a volva and a seeress, connected both to the Volsung line via the maternal line, and with hearts through her own mysteries.

Outside of ‘the lore’ my own experience, my own personal practice (both magical/spiritual/personal) and my UPG related to Angrboda/Gullveig have heavily featured hearts.

First and foremost, the heart, both stylized and anatomical, has been known as a symbol of love for a long, long time. From Wikipedia:

The first known depiction of a heart as a symbol of romantic love dates to the 1250s. It occurs in a miniature decorating a capital S in a manuscript of the French Roman de la poire (National Library FR MS. 2086, plate 12). In the miniature, a kneeling lover (or more precisely, an allegory of the lover’s “sweet gaze” or douz regart) offers his heart to a damsel.

In this case, they are specifically discussing the <3, the stylized heart symbol.

 She-who-brings-sorrow is also full of love. She is a Divine Mother, giving birth to Gods, and She loves Her children. She loves Loki, her consort. She loves her tribe. She loves those who are Hers. She loves fiercely, She loves honestly. If She loves you, She loves all of you, even the ugly, monstrous bits.

Her body is speared and burnt, but Her loving Heart always survives, allowing her to be brought back. She gave birth to Gods, and to Herself, from Herself. When Loki consumes Gullveig’s heart, and it causes him to become pregnant and birth witches and troll women. When She was burnt again, Angrboda’s heart remained and Love called her back; Her love for Her Children, torn from her, the love of Her people, who’s blood powered Loki’s magic.

As well, the heart serves as a symbol off Gullveig-Angrboda’s status as a prophetess and volva. As we see from the Volsung saga, the heart is also a symbol of wisdom and prophecy in Norse tradition. In chapter 3 of the Saga of Erik the Red, we meet the Volva Thorbjorg, who performs Seidr for the people, to prophecy the future for them. Her entire visit is described in great detail, including the meal she is served:

During the evening the tables were set; and now I must tell you what food was made ready for the spae-queen. There was prepared for her porridge of kid’s milk, and hearts of all kinds of living creatures there found were cooked for her. She had a brazen spoon, and a knife with a handle of walrus-tusk, which was mounted with two rings of brass, and the point of it was broken off.

 One of my personal kennings for Angrboda is Heart of Jarnvidr (this is also the name of my devotional blog located on tumblr) As the Chief of Chiefs of the Ironwood Clans, Angrboda their war leader, and as Chieftess acts as Gythia to Her people. As the Hagia of the Ironwood, She is their Wisewoman. And when She was dead, the Ironwood came together over Her heart, to bring back The Heart of the Ironwood.

Sanity Canaries

One of my fears when it comes to spirit work is that I am crazy, that I am hearing things or seeing things that are not spiritual in nature, but all in my head. One of my constant battles, and part of the work I’m doing in making myself more useful to Angrboda, is learning to discern and process through these feelings.

Part of the reason for this is because I *am* a little of what you could call ‘crazy’. Until about two years ago, I was considered bipolar, and was taking medication to treat both BPD as well as an anti-psychotic to treat episodes of depersonalization; as well I have experience major bouts of depression and various anxiety issue – OCD particularly. 

Now, two years ago, we discovered that I am *not* in fact, bipolar at all, and that the birth control hormones I was on were making me completely insane. Once those were out of me, my crazy subsided, at least to an extent. I am still OCD; however it is much more manageable now. And I do occasionally get depressed, however again, this is more manageable.  The last, worst bout of depression I had started in late December off 2012, and started resolving later in 2013 after I left my husband. Its only been within the last few months that I have been happier more often than I have been sad.

So obviously, this all ties into and informs how I interact with both the material, and the spiritual world. One of the thing I have found that really helps me with my discernment are my Sanity Canaries.

A Sanity Canary is basically a person who, knowingly or not, is someone whom you can turn to to touch base with and ensure you are not crazy – much like a canary in the coal mine which alerts folks to dangerous gasses.

Now, coal miners only had one canary, but I, and you, can have several. Here are a few examples of my Sanity Canaries:

Therapist

The first, of course, is your therapist. I feel very strongly that a good therapist is in order for just about every – including, and maybe especially, spirit workers. My therapist is amazing – she is comfortable with all aspects of my life; kink, woo, polyamory, etcetera.

I think the best moment I had with her was when several weeks after I started talking about the Norse Gods showing up in my life, she comes into a session with “Well, I was at a conference this weekend, and you MUST look up this presenter I met!” and she was talking about Raven Kaldera.  Yup. 

She has also on more than one occasion said something like “Well, I see you’re addressing x issue with y actions, but have you done a ritual/magic/spell/talked to your priest/etc?” which is INVALUABLE, trust me.

While I see her less frequently than usual, she is someone who has known me for a long time, has a good handle on my issues and quirks, who knows me inside and out – so when she says something, I fucking listen. Ultimately, what her job is, is to help me maintain myself, just like my GP and what not. I have given her a certain amount of authority and cache in my life, and as such it is my responsibility to listen to her.

How do you find someone like her? Well….its not easy.  This is my nth round of therapy, but the longest lasting so far. It was years of trial and error, looking through Kink aware professional lists, making calls, and seeing terrible therapists before I found her.  Ultimately, I googled sex positive therapists in my area, found her office, and took a stab in the dark as to whom to see based on my days off. It took a while before I brought up spirituality, but as it came up, it was a natural progression and thankfully she rolled with it.

The flip side of this is that I have to be as honest as I possibly can in therapy. This isn’t happy fluffy fun time, it usually ends in tears. But it is good.

Friends and Family

Obviously, your friends and family are other great sources of Sanity Canaries – they know you very well! For me, the two most important are my housemate and my friend whom I will call the Eagle Scout, because he is one.

The Eagle Scout is a pretty damn good one, actually.  He’s one of my best friends – I joke that when we split, I got him in the divorce, because he was friendly with my STBX first and when we split, my ex just blew him off. We have lots in common, such as both having some anxiety issues, some wounds in our past, and a love of My Little Pony; but part of why I value him as a Sanity Canary are our differences.

See, The Eagle Scout is Christian. Not Catholic, Christian, and a very practical sort of one at that.  I always describe him as very dense. Not physically, not emotionally or intellectually, but kind of…solid? For him, religion is very private, quiet and not at all immanent.  If I had suddenly become a Christian Mystic, he would be looking at me exactly as askew as he is now. Its all equally as weird to him.

The Eagle is the person I called when I wanted to test my flying ointment for side effects. He’s the one who’ll watch a blót, 

My house-mate IS kind of woo – she offers to our housewight, she does a little magic and understands energy, but not so much Gods. But she also knows me well enough that if she voices concern about a thing, I’m likely to listen.

Another is a friend who is incredibly woo, who is involved with quite a bit of this stuff, but in a completely different tradition than my own, with different experiences and thoughts, but with whom I can discuss these things and get feedback.

Co-religionists

Another place to find Sanity Canaries, and another good place to have one, is with a co-religionist. There is a member of my kindred who was the person who first sparked the idea of a Sanity Canary. For me, this is a person who currently I don’t know well, and will get to know better, but whom I consider to be an upstanding ethical person who makes good choices and has a variety of responsibilities outside of the kindred.  I looked at them and said ‘If this person thinks shits crazy, its crazy. They will be my sanity canary.”

 

Sanity Canaries are a wonderful concept for helping you processes through your own shit, and help you learn to trust your instincts and your own feelings – my Sanity Canaries don’t generally get involved unless shit looks fucked up – in fact I can count on one hand minus a thumb the times anyone has pulled me aside with a “WTF, are you insane?” They are more for my own peace of mind than anything; two don’t even know that I consider them sanity canaries

One of the things you may notices – the one thing all these folks have in common is that we have a pre-existing, trust based relationship. Someone who doesn’t know you at all isn’t a good Sanity Canary. Someone who can look at you and go ‘You’re left eye is doing that twitchy thing. Did you eat today?” or what not. Someone who knows you well enough to know when you’re acting out of character – not someone who agrees with you all the time. The Eagle Scout, and my Therapist both know me well enough to know my basic characteristics and when I’m acting differently. Regardless of how they may personally feel about my practices, they love and care about me enough to notice when something is not just different, but when something is wrong.

Do you have a Sanity Canary? Did I leave anyone out? Feel free to comment and share your stories!