"Let the beauty you love be what you do. There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground." - Rumi

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Serving Odin (Part I)

by Galina Krasskova

I have bled for You,
oh my hungry God,
wept and writhed
in terror and pain
such as You alone know how to bestow
upon Your chosen.
Bliss bringer, You have broken me
to Your service
Yours alone.
I am grateful.
i am like the mountain now,
or the blade in the moment of its death arc.
I cannot be moved, save by You.
I cannot be stopped, save by Your will.
I have danced with Pain,
and I have conquered
(myself most of all).
It is no longer a broken thing
I place into Your calloused hands.
My sweetest Sustenance,
wear me well,
this girl, whom You have made
Your vestment.

I am an Odin's woman, His servant, His valkyrie, His wife, His godatheow. I am an ordeal master, honed by His will to wield pain as a healing tool. I bring terror. I unleash monsters. I bring transformation. I bring the gift of strength. I bring HIM with every breath, every step, every beating pulse of my heart. i can do this because He did the same for me.

I've belonged to Odin for a very long time. He started out tempting me with knowledge, then wooing me with His presence, and eventually breaking the wall of my pride with His terror. I fell easily to this assault upon the senses. He's very canny and knows exactly where to strike to ensnare us. Thankfully. I've been asked over the years time and again if I wished an easier Master and I have to say honestly: no. I know why Odin chose me, at least in part. We are both creatures of extremes for all that He is a God and I a human: we share that hunger, that passion for knowing, for doing, for becoming. I can accept this. In my service to Him, our natures are well matched and I, warrior that I am, can be of service. That is important to me.

of course, I never expected that service to lead me into ordeal. I suppose I should have, knowing what I know about Odin's trials: His loss of an eye, His choosing to spend time as ergi, His hanging between two fires, and most especially His hanging upon the Tree. I never expected that He would ask that I follow Him on His path, working out the wisdom of His suffering through the medium of my flesh though, in sacred imitatio! It makes sense given my military mindset and the harshness of my background that this would be the path best suited to my skills. I had no idea though. He led me to it blind.

Ordeal work is the careful and structured application of pain, very often in a sacred setting, to create an emotional and spiritual catalyst in the one undergoing the ordeal. Pain is not the purpose of the ordeal. Pain is merely the vehicle, the tool, the means by which the ordeal dancer gets where he or she needs to go. This isn't a tool that works for everyone, but for some, pain brings a clarity and integrity, a stripping away of all barriers before one's Gods that cannot be achieved in any other way. It allows the Gods access to our innermost beings.

there is another side of ordeal work as well. By going into the terrible places, by facing pain, engaging with it willingly, by allowing it to leave its marks upon our flesh, by going into the places where monsters dwell (our own monsters most of all), we gain the right and moreover the skill to guide others through that selfsame darkness. Since I graduated from ordeal dancer to ordeal master (though one never stops undergoing one's own ordeals), I have experienced this time and time again. Ordeal isn't just about undergoing painful trials. it's about a process that makes us able to hold the most painful, shameful, soul-shattering, damaging things that people may give us, things that they need to share, need to have witnessed, need to let go but don't know how.

They will come to us, drawn as moth to flame, because they have seen in stark relief, that we know pain. We embody victory over their worst fears: we've gone into the darkness, into horror and survived, stronger for it. We are living emblems of the journey they are struggling to take. We know darkness. We know terror and we aren't likely to balk at their shame. Let me give you and example. I underwent a public flogging ordeal a few months ago. Odin requested it, as I needed to have the runes flogged into me a third time, and I was teaching about Northern Tradition shamanism and it would provide a good lesson in what ordeal work was all about without being overly intense. I stripped to the waist, sang my spirit song as another shaman flogged thirty three runes into me. I learned at that moment, that all the ordeals I had previously undergone (a considerable number) had prepared me for that moment. I could hold space with pain, engage with it, embody it as an equal: unafraid. It no longer held any charge for me. I finished, dressed, and went back into the common space, as this was during a group retreat. One shy, sweet woman came in after me and asked if she could speak to me. We sat down and she told me a wrenching story of how she had accidentally shot her husband, believing him to be an intruder. He had died. She told me the story and after hearing how there had been multiple and vicious home invasions in her area in the preceding weeks, how she had two very young children home with her, how she was scared and alone, thinking her husband at work...i listened to the Gods and told her she had done the right thing. It was not anyone's fault but a horrible accident. (Her husband had lived long enough for them to say goodbye. He'd also been able to speak with the police to assure them that it was just that: a horrible, horrible accident). She was a mother protecting her children. She gave me her deepest shame and grief and I took it with open hands and heart, examined it clearly, embraced it and put it away. She was visibly relieved and lightened. She no longer had to hold this terrible burden of shame. She could give it to me because she had seen me go through something that symbolized to her, the shame, terror, pain, and darkness that she held within her. I was the only person at the gathering of shamans that she could go to because i was the only (female) ordeal worker present.

After speaking about ordeal work on another occasion, a woman asked to walk with me a bit. She asked me tentatively if I only spoke about ordeal, or if I also practiced it. When I said I was an ordeal worker, she told me in a rush of words how she'd been a cutter for years and the shame and pain that went with that. She told me of her struggle every day not to cut. We talked for hours and I believe she found some measure of peace in the sharing. That is what ordeal work is about. The pain is what enables one to do the work. It readies you, marks you (in a way others can see), trains you like nothing else. Pain breaks down our barriers of fear, shame, attachment, ego, hubris, and a thousand other things. It opens us to the immense compassion that the Gods have to give. Not everyone is meant to go this route. There are other equally valuable and sacred paths, but for those who are meant to walk the ordeal road, it is an immense investment of time and trust on the part of the Gods. We have a duty to repay that trust.

I'm glad I'm an ordeal worker, something a year ago I never thought I would be saying (I really do not like pain). I can do this work. I can serve Odin in this way. I understand that it is not about pain, it is about what lies on the other side of pain. Three years ago, Odin set my feet on the path that would make me an ordeal master and valkyrie. He demanded that I undergo nine ordeals, one for each of the nine worlds, each one more challenging than the last. In each ordeal, something was sacrificed, some part of me died. In each ordeal, I was gifted, some part of me restored. I went in an undisciplined, uncontrolled but fervent fighter. I emerged a shaman. Over the next few weeks, I shall recount my journey through the nine worlds, though words alone seem small and puny in comparison to the events themselves. I shall try my best to convey the process by which Odin took a warrior and turned her into a valkyrie. The point of undergoing these ordeals is that through pain, we learn about service. It is this process which enables us to serve as few others can. We're the dark ones, the scarred ones, who bear the love of our Gods marked directly in our flesh. Because of that, because of what we've seen and what we've endured, there is no pain, no shame, no horror that our clients, our suffering ones could possibly bring to us, that is too great for us to bear. We give absolution.


  1. You have some gorgeous images in your poem. I don't think I come to Him as a broken thing -- more like guarded and unsure. In my case, He has to strip me down and make me believe.

  2. i'm sorry, i meant the above to be a response to your post about His gentleness!!!

    I think in many respects, you and I are coming to the same point (Him) from opposite but complimentary directions. :)

  3. This is an amazing thing, your discussion on ordeal work. It is certainly not the path I'm meant to walk, but exploring the darkness and your pain with it... it sounds powerful, like something to try.

  4. That's an important thing that you said: ordeal work is not for everyone. It's a useful tool for some of us but not all. There are other techniques that for other folks will work just as well and powerfully. I don't want this to sound like i'm saying everyone should engage in ordeal. That is not the case, far from it. This is what Odin asked me to do.

    and it was very powerful...I finished my 9-ordeal cycle this past October and I...am in no way the same person who began.