(This ordeal took place October 2008).
Since my first exposure to them, I’ve always been deeply frightened by hook ordeals. There is something about the physical reality of a metal hook being inserted into the skin that I find deeply, viscerally terrifying. It speaks to a level of pain (real or imagined) that I had never, ever wanted to personally experience. I was hoping against hope as I began my ordeal cycle that I wouldn’t have to ever go up on hooks, but as I slowly worked my way through my nine world cycle, I knew, pretty much by the third ordeal, that this cycle would culminate with my hanging from hooks in imitatio of the Old Man at my Asgard ordeal. This scared the hell out of me. For most of my ordeal cycle, which took about two and a half years, I didn’t bother thinking about it. After all, I had enough on my plate just getting through whatever ordeal was right in front of me (not to mention integrating the lessons learned when each one was finished). Each ordeal prepared me for the next, but Asgard seemed so very far away. By Vanaheim though, I knew it was time to start scheduling things.
I arranged with R. to hold my ordeal during the last Keepers Crossing. This was a yearly retreat for shamans and spiritworkers that ran for about four years. There were always classes and workshops and it was a time to network and reap the benefits of our respective, combined skills. I also arranged, after some difficulty, to have H. come out from Belgium to serve as technician and ordeal master. W. agreed to horse Odin and on the day of the ordeal itself, I had another blessing: M. was pushed to horse Loki for me. Thank the Gods too, because had They not been there in the flesh, I don’t think I could have gotten through the ordeal itself.
The day dawned grey and cold. I slept late and missed the first class, which I’d wanted to attend. I decided, however, that it was more important for me to be rested for what was to come. I brought H. her gift: a gorgeous Paul Chen spear head and she was surprised…she asked me if she’d mentioned she needed one for a Working. She hadn’t, but as I told her, Odin had dictated what I was to bring her. Midway through the day, R. got to work some of the acupressure that Mengloth is teaching him on me…I’d volunteered to be the stunt dummy. That was interesting and very helpful to me physically. Then it was just a matter of getting into ordeal headspace.
The night before, W. had informed me that Odin wanted to do things to me during the ordeal and that caused me to have a complete breakdown in the car. It was just about all I could do to show up. I didn’t realize how tightly wired, how frightened I was of this particular ordeal until that moment. Several people had asked to attend but at the last minute, before we went to get started, Odin made them leave. Only Odin’s and Loki’s folk could be there, save for H. who belongs to Hela. It seems all things eventually flow through Her hands and as I was to die, it was right and proper that She be present. Surprisingly, despite years of working together, even R. was not permitted to be present. It was a Wodinic mystery. My adopted mother couldn’t stand to watch…her ordeal was knowing that I was going through mine. She stayed up at the house with B. (At the last minute, B. had asked if she could be present but I told her that I needed her to watch out for my adopted mom, that she was the only one I would trust with that and she took to the task with gallantry). I was left with H. who was serving as technician, W. who was horsing Odin, M. who was horsing Loki, and E., who was there to witness. Odin had wanted a Loki’s person to witness and E. had volunteered. (S. was also there as ground crew – to take care of the Horses after their respective possessions). H. laid out the tools, W. and M. opened to the Gods and the process began.
The pain of the hooks going into my back was like nothing I have ever experienced. It was agonizing. There were six hooks to go into my back but I soon lost count. (Two more hooks went into my breasts...those didn’t hurt much, and Odin put two needles in each arm, in a gebo formation for a total of 24 holes). Odin and Loki held onto me while H., half horsing Hela worked. I was given a gift: Hela asked Odin if He wanted this to hurt more or less and He left it up to Loki, who told her to make it as easy as possible. I am so grateful to Them all for being present.
Parts of it seemed like a dream. There were times throughout the process where I could hardly believe that I was actually there, undergoing this final ordeal. There was something surreal about the whole thing and with my consciousness eventually flickering in and out of this world, I lost all track of time and place and space.
I have to say that as badly as the hooks hurt, being roped up wasn’t bad at all. There are two ways to be suspended: slowly or all at once. Needless to say, I went up all at once. It was strange, sickening being dangled by my flesh several feet off the ground, but not exactly painful (though not pleasant either). Odin stayed with me, told me of His sacrifice on the tree, reminded me that at the end, my hooks would come out whereas part of Him was ALWAYS on the Tree suffering. Very gently but firmly, He told me that when He hung, He screamed, cried, passed out….that there was no shame in any of it, to just let myself have the experience. I did pass out apparently for a long time (20 mins? A half hour? ). I was told later that while I was out, Odin kept his hand on me even as I swung…W. said later that He was told that Odin kept His hand on me because He didn’t want me to come back to Midgard consciousness and think that He’d left. While I was out, I was at the Tree, on the Tree, staring into Ginungagap. I died. And Odin in that place that is no place and everyplace, sang me back to life. (I was told later by witnesses that the Horse did not sing so all of this took place not in Midgard on R.’s land, but Away. I was with Odin at the place and point of His greatest sacrifice).
It’s odd but even writing about this now, months after the ordeal, makes me nauseous. The first time, quite recently, that I walked back on R.’s land, back to the tree upon which I’d hung, I was taken right back to those moments, to the hooks going into my flesh, to my dying on the Tree. I’m told this is not at all uncommon after such ordeals. Sometimes there is an element of mild PTSD attached. I know of one ordeal master and shaman who had to go up on hooks for His final death ordeal. As he hung, a special song was sung by another shaman. Now, he told me recently, when he hears that song, he has two choices: he can sing along or he can start screaming. Such is the way it sometimes goes. We’re never allowed to forget where we’ve been and what we’ve gone through. We’re never allowed to forget the price we’ve paid for our skills. We’re never allowed to separate ourselves from the process and the moment lest we forget the humility, surrender, and trust involved.
All went as Odin planned. For those who might be appalled reading this, I want to state clearly: I knew what I was getting into. Throughout it all, Odin gave me the choice and I chose to undergo this knowing full well where it might lead. I trusted Odin that He in His caring and love would bring me to where I needed to go. Furthermore, I had one of the finest teams available. All were highly skilled, trained not only in the physical techniques of ordeal work, but also in first aid, cpr, and preventing the spread of blood born pathogens. H. also has advanced EMT training and is a certified medical qi-gung practitioner. I was in perfectly competent hands.
Eventually, I was allowed down. The moment my feet touched the ground, my lower back spasmed terribly and I screamed, going down to my knees. (I had known that with my back injuries, this was a strong possibility and indeed my back spasmed fully for three days. I did not mind the reminder of my ordeal. In some strange way, I rejoiced in it. Pain tells you that you’re alive, that you’ve survived, that you have overcome fear and a thousand other things. It shows you where you’ve been). Odin stayed with me until I could walk, and then walked with me: a blessing. The whole process of hanging for Him opened and cleaned me out. Afterwards, I was as clean and centered and wide open to HIM as I would ever be. As bloody, painful, and terrifying as this whole thing was, I would go up again (though from the chest, not the back) for Him in offering should I have the chance.
As night was falling (another blessing, I’d been allowed to have it done at twilight/dusk rather than in the cold of full darkness. The skin is much more sensitive to pain in the cold), we made our way back up to the house, where my mother, in tears and worried, hugged me and gifted me with an ansuz pendant. Then we went out to dinner. The next day I taught two classes at a local Pagan Pride event, limping proudly all the while! I must have made a sad and sorry, though joyful sight to all concerned. I had tasted ecstasy in the moments of my rebirth, in the aftermath of the ordeal itself. I had become wise in the ways of my own power. It showed, even sore and contrary as my body was on that Sunday. I could not help but glow with joy, relief, and pride.
I died on the Tree, I died as I hung on those hooks and so many things changed when I came back. As much as it hurt (and it did hurt terribly), I’d do it all again. It brought me closer to Odin than I ever thought possible. It cleansed me utterly and opened me to Him, His passion, His love, His caring, His will in ways I had never expected and at a far deeper level than I ever knew possible. It was the culmination of a cycle that had taken nearly three years and that had changed me in many unexpected ways. I was in no way the woman to faced Hela during that first ordeal. I had become more fully His. I had become more fully myself; and I would do it all again if He asked.
“Go ahead, light your candles and burn your incense and ring your bells and call out to God, but watch out, because God will come and He will put you on His anvil and fire up His forge and beat you and beat you until He turns brass into pure gold.”