by G. Krasskova
In November 2006 I began the process of dying for my God. Over the next three years, I would undergo nine ordeals, one ordeal for each of the nine worlds in Norse cosmology. I started at the bottom of the World Tree, Yggdrasil, the Tree of life, death, wisdom, and sacrifice. I started at the bottom because I belonged to Odin. Throughout this cycle, I would work my way, through terror and pain, through love and devotion up the Tree toward Asgard, toward Him. This accomplished several things (no one can ever tell me our Gods aren’t good at multi-tasking!): I was able to undergo my shamanic death and rebirth, I journeyed to all the worlds and established contacts and allies there, I learned about His journeys and the path of Odin that I’m on.(1) It was horrible, terrifying, beautiful, painful, joyous, ecstatic, and transformative, just like this God that I serve. It was three years of calculated, on-going terror beyond anything I had experienced to that point. I did it willingly but that willingness did nothing to lessen either the pain involved, the loss (and there was much) or the fear. Yet…one other thing I learned through all my ordeals: if He asked me to do it all over again, I would. Joyously.
The following is from my journal, which I kept throughout the cycle. The death cycle spoken about is something many shamans go through: a psychic/mental/emotional and sometimes physical death and rebirth, wherein the Gods remake the shaman in any way They see fit. For many, it occurs in one traumatic incident. For others, it is a process. Mine was a calculated (how could it not be with my Lord) cycle.
Today I began my ordeal cycle. I’ve known I had to do this for months now. I’ve had it confirmed by two different diviners and shamans. The only way out is through. Odin is killing me in pieces, bit by bit, because I do not love life enough to come back were He to do it all at once. That is what He said: I simply do not love life enough. He cannot simply spear me and be done with it. I would not have the passion for life to drag myself back. Nine worlds, nine ordeals and I will walk into them all…and I’m terrified. Today, I began with Helheim.
My adopted Mom flew in from CA and came up to R.’s with me. It was so good to see her. She is my touchstone of normalcy, of rock-solid steadfastness. She belongs to Sigyn and Loki and while she’s not happy about this ordeal, I know she trusts the Gods and is praying that I can see it through. She cannot be present at the ordeal, but she will be waiting to provide any necessary aftercare. I’ve been a warrior all my life and I have never felt so weak…and hopelessly unprepared.
We arrived at the farm about 1pm. W. arrived about an hour later. The actual ordeal started a little after 4pm. Between the nerves and the terror, I felt like I could barely breathe for the hour or so beforehand. For weeks I’d been experiencing this intense sense of dread and impending death. I was worrying over my adopted mother, who is not in good health and over my oath-sister, thinking that perhaps something terrible was going to happen to them. Then I took a good long look at the threads of wyrd and realized that sense of impending doom had my name all over it! I was heading toward death. I was heading toward Helheim. I was heading toward that place where no one returns unchanged. All that sense of doom was me.
It was quite cold outside but fortunately I was allowed clothing. R. had made me a robe out of a warm white blanket. He also permitted me to wear a woolen, white cloak – white the color of death and rebirth in so many traditions, and of cleansing. My Gods were with me, even though through my fear I couldn’t feel Them much. Loki had told me months ago that if I got a specific tattoo for Him, He’d walk with me as far as He could through my ordeals. I had hunted and hunted, but had not been able to find what He wanted. The night before the ordeal, awash in nervousness, I asked Him if He’d walk with me anyway. I couldn’t hear His answer though. I could not calm myself enough. Right before I was about to robe, R. went out to get herbs to burn to ash2 and came back with two huge mullein leaves. He said he didn’t know why, but Loki had told him to pick them (mullein is one of Loki’s herbs) and to give them to me: one to put in each of my shoes. I almost cried. I knew it was Loki telling me that yes, He’d walk with me. I would not be alone.
After I robed, and at the appointed time, I took a basket of altar supplies and walked alone down to the field. W. was already there having been selected to witness (he volunteered and fit Hela’s criteria, having recently undergone his own shamanic death). I set up the altar and poured Her an offering of alcohol. Then W. directed me to kneel at the Northern Gate, a torii-like structure marking the North perimeter of the ritual space. I did so and each wrist was secured by rope to either pole of the gate. Then I waited. After what I thought was about a half our or so, Hela came. She had possessed the body of Her shaman R. Her presence was unmistakable. Death walked the field that night. She circled behind me as though I was less than prey, as though I was nothing, as though contemplating what She wished to do to me, what would be the least blow to do the most shattering. Then came to the front of me and extended Her hand to be kissed. It was Her skeletal hand and as soon as my lips touched the bones, this indescribable, icy shudder passed through me. Then my ordeal truly began.
She was far more merciful than I expected or deserved. She challenged me on several fronts: my massive contempt, my hatred of life especially my corporeal nature and all the fear and weakness that I hide away. Hela facilitated my colleague and friend’s death ordeal and in that ordeal, he was rarely permitted to speak. For me, who prefers to remain silent on those matters I hold most closely to my heart, for whom speaking of pain, or fear, or love, or anguish is the hardest thing in the world, well, She made me speak. She forced me. She allowed me no quarter, no breathing space in which to hide a single motivation, failing, or ugly, ugly fault. At one point, She slammed my face down into a large cauldron of water, holding me just long enough. I was surprised She let me up so quickly, after the initial shock. Then She took out my heart and made me beg to have it returned. She forced me to give voice to my deepest fears. All must go, She said, whether I would or not, all save my fear that Odin won’t want me. That I’m allowed to keep, that is fitting reminder, a memento mori or sorts.
The Goddess of death and decay chastised me for my hatred of my body and my ill-conceived abuse of it. She held a knife to my throat and taught me to be grateful for breath. My hatred of my flesh invalidates the offering of the ordeal and She charged me to examine that and to give it up. She drew forth my contempt, plucking at its roots. She took my blood, forcing me to take blood oath in the river Hvergelmir that I would break it down and give it up. That was my sacrifice to Her. I who am not ever fully of Midgard, must learn to connect and build threads there and contempt causes whatever roots I lay to wither away like dust. She forbade it. Then She laid a challenge on me that caused my stomach to roil and every fiber of my being to protest: I was charged with finding three people that I held in great contempt (rightly or wrongly it does not matter) and apologizing to them. Contempt in Her eyes damaged me. It was not about the other person. They might in fact deserve lawfully every ounce of contempt I could muster. I was still not allowed this indulgence. It destroyed my own worth and by doing so, made me unfit for Odin’s service. It poisoned my soul. It must go.
As of this writing, I have already taken care of this. I did so almost immediately after the ordeal, calling one person and contacting the others by email. My words were mocked and misunderstood but that matters not. It only matters that I did as Hela bade and gave what was not mine to hold, back to its rightful owners. I returned contempt to its source allowing it to run out of my heart like water through a sieve. It was wrenching. I was required to choose those people that I least wanted to contact, those people who had slandered, harmed, attacked, and libeled me for over a year causing me no end of trouble. I was required to choose people who had attacked my relationship with my Gods, especially Odin, my value, my sanity, my worth, and my right to call myself Heathen. I was required to contact those who had forced me out of what was then my tribe. I only realized afterwards that this was Hela’s blessing: in apologizing, I freed myself. My only caveat was that I should not choose someone for whom my anger was worse than my contempt.
After Hela gave me this order, the ordeal was not over. I was flogged with a bundle of thorny roses, which was more symbolic than anything else. But then She grabbed me and carved a great bindrune in my lower back with a scalpel. I did not find out until my next ordeal a few months later, that in doing this, She worked a charm into my flesh that prevented me from dissociating from pain. I had committed to my ordeal cycle, so I would feel everything. I had long been used to simply turning the needs of my body off, including pain. I had been a professional ballet dancer for years as a young woman and learning to not feel pain is a necessary skill. This was no longer acceptable to Hela. She locked me down into my flesh.
She said she both bound and poisoned me, that if She were to rip it all my contempt out now, it would kill me. Instead, in addition to binding me to my flesh, She poisoned me with a charm that would rot the crap within me that needs to go. She told me it would be painful and that at my next ordeal, Nidhogg would suck it out of me.
Finally, She cut the cords binding me to the gate posts, tossed the knife point deep in the dirt and left. I got the ropes off my wrists which were both bruised and burned and sat for awhile, getting feeling back in my legs from where I’d been sitting seiza. W. had previously rescued my glasses – I hadn’t noticed – and brought them and a towel.
Hela had challenged me to be the type of person I’d have others emulate and to explore my failings there. Eventually, R. came back to the fire and had to sit and tic. Hela is very still, so it’s hard not to tic afterwards, after She leaves the body She had possessed. We talked and debriefed each other. There was one shocking moment when we realized that despite the fire, everything Hela had touched, and only what She had touched, was frozen over.
Before this night, I’d expected physical pain but this was a humiliation ordeal, one that reduced me to tears several times. At one point, I just sobbed and held Hela’s hand, nuzzling it. She was hard and very just as only Death can be.
Aftewards, R. and W. took care of my bloody back. I found out later that they were a little concerned at how deep the cuts were. As I have since experienced several times, the Goddess of Death has a very firm touch with the scalpel! They cleaned that and a cut I had gotten on my head when we got up to the house. There, Hela gave me one more gift.
I have the berserkergangr. It runs in my family very strongly. Odin has long told me it is one of His gifts but also that I must learn to master myself in the storm of its fury. I had been failing at this utterly. That rage-beast that lay in wait within me was always close to the surface, always ready to explode, to attack. It might be a gift, but by not learning to value and discipline it, by not learning control, I was not serving Odins’ will. Hela helped me. She allowed her shaman to give me a charm, based on the charm that the Gods used to bind Her brother. This shaman R. gave me the first three parts of the charm: breath of a fish, spittle of a bird, beard of a woman. He told me how to get roots of a mountain and footfall of a cat. He said to wait on nerves of a bear, the final piece of the charm, until I find out what that has to be for me. It’s different for everyone. I was instructed to gather these things, put them in a pouch, tie it with a dog’s choke chain and keep it on Hela’s altar. He also gave me the bones that had been part of Hela’s regalia glove. I was gifted with several other items from W. and E., all of which now rest on my altar to Hela. I’ve decided that out of gratitude to the Deity’s facilitating these ordeals, I will maintain a small altar to each of Them. I began with Hela’s. (It goes without saying that I also gifted the ordeal worker/shaman serving as human facilitator too)!
My next ordeal is Niflheim and it appears I have to seek the dragon by myself, in the cold, alone. W. and F. are taking me on a four day cold-camping trip in February, so that’s when the God’s want it done. That ordeal will be physically grueling. I hope I don’t fail.
1. This is an interesting concept, the idea that each Deity has multiple ‘paths’ through which devotees can serve. I first learned about it in Santeria. Each orisha has different paths and when a person is dedicated to that orisha, divination is done to reveal which particular path the person is walking. This helps him or her draw closer to the Orisha in question and also provides important clues as to what challenges may be required. Over the fifteen years or so that I’ve been serving Odin in one form or another, I’ve come to realize that the same holds true for the Norse Deities. They have multiple paths that They walk and often times, this is reflected in how Their devotees are claimed.
I know that Loki, for instance can come as the gentle Husband of Sigyn, the Breaker of Worlds, the young Hellraiser with Odin, and several other paths as well. Odin has over a hundred names and each one of those sacred by-names represents a path that one of His can walk. I recently met an Odin’s woman who was following Odin as Bolverk. I walk the path of the Wanderer, the path of Odin in His quest for knowledge, Odin as ordeal worker, as the One who willingly sacrificed…everything. This is a new idea within the Northern Tradition, but it is one that, I believe, has its merit in the stark realities of service.
2. Mugwort, yarrow, plantain, elder, agrimony, aconite, rue were burned by W. and then Hela rubbed them into the cutting on my back. This causes the wound to heal in stark, black relief against the flesh.