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

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Serving Odin - the Seventh Ordeal: Vanaheim

By G. Krasskova

I do not belong to the Vanir. I am owned instead by Odin as anyone who has read my work can easily ascertain. I also have a strong affinity for Loki. With the exception of Gerda, I had not until recently had much interaction with any of the Vanir or Those other Deities commonly associated with Them. It was, however at Odin’s behest that I first sought out Vanaheim, as part of my series of nine ritual ordeals. Each ordeal has given me access to one of the Nine Worlds and each has been governed by one of the Deities who rule in that particular world. With each ordeal, I gain knowledge, skill and make necessary sacrifices of the self. Many of the ordeals have been wrenching. Nearly all have been physically painful in some way. Sandwiched as it was between my Jotunheim ordeal (which had proved emotionally quite devastating) and Alfheim (which, being a completely unknown quantity filled me with trepidation in the days preceding it), I had not expected Vanaheim to prove much of a challenge. It seemed pretty clear cut to me: land, dirt, cycles of land, more dirt, etc. In retrospect, my hubris amazes even me.

Of course, like many Heathens, I honored the Vanir when the occasion arose as Gods of fertility, abundance, wealth, and bounty of land and sea but beyond that I gave Them little thought. I, warrior trained, warrior called, valkyrie of the grimmest of Gods had little love or respect for the secrets and mysteries these bright Gods hold. Even within my ancestral venerations, I often disparaged ancestors who were farmers, preferring instead to honor those who had served in the military, who did not make their living from the land. Furthermore as a city dweller (a very happy city dweller) I’d had little interaction with the rhythms and cycles of the natural world for all that I might have had abstract understanding of them. Much of this was to change with this particular ordeal.

The first part of my Vanaheim ordeal occurred late in May. A friend, colleague, shaman, and farmer agreed to facilitate for me. Nerthus was to hold the secrets for me in this particular ordeal. She was the Goddess I had to face and by whom I was to be humbled. I have heard many people describe Nerthus as a comforting, loving, gentle Mother Goddess. Mother Goddess She may indeed be but She is also terrifying, harsh, implacable and fierce. This is the Goddess referenced in Tacitus who commonly received human sacrifice as Her due after all.

She commanded that I be buried alive. She is about life yes, but also death and the cycles in between that connect the two. She is about the wisdom of the earth, the vicious clarity of the land that devours and from that ruthless devouring spews forth new life. A trench was dug and covered with thick netting (thankfully I was not required to actually lay covered completely with dirt. I am a kinesthetic learner and needed some minor mobility to best process the lessons that were to be forthcoming). Naked, with only prayer beads, a journal and water to sustain me, I was committed to the pit. It was agreed upon that once every four hours someone would come to check on me, bringing me water and a minimal amount of food (organic greens, grain, nuts) but otherwise I was permitted no human contact during this time. I was to stay until Nerthus gave me permission to depart.

Isolation is a powerful tool particularly when it is filled with the presence of a Goddess so terrifying that ancient acolytes were not permitted to gaze even upon Her unveiled images. She showed me directly the cycle of life-into-death-into-life contained in the land itself. I saw insects and spiders creeping about the leaves and dirt that filled the trench with me, creeping between roots of bushes and trees. I saw that dirt itself was not some inactive substance devoid of life but that it was the raw substance from which life is born, a living, shifting, very active biosphere. I later learned that there are more living organisms in a handful of dirt than there are human beings on the planet and so much life and death going on there that it’s not surprising Nerthus is Herself terrifying.

For six hours She kept me in the pit. Her lessons weren’t only about the sacredness of dirt but also of the primal bond that one has with one’s mother (even if not one’s biological mother…in my case, She honored the woman who has served as my adopted mother, bringing home just how sacred and important that bond was on a wyrd level). She forced me to examine my own misogyny and distaste for the typical cultural markers of “womanhood.”

Moreover, Nerthus challenged me to honor my body as I had never once honored it before. I spent years as a professional ballet dancer, a career in which neglect and harsh treatment of one’s body is de rigueur. For more than half my lifetime I had looked upon my body as ‘the enemy.’ Nerthus spoke about the importance of embodiment and drove home the point that we are not separate from our bodies, but that our bodies are an integral part of how we are meant to interact with not only each other but with the Gods Themselves. This is all the more important for shamans and spiritworkers: our bodies are one of the primary interfaces through which we communicate that which comes from the Gods. Our bodies are the primary tools with which we work, the means by which we function, acquire and disseminate knowledge. Our bodies are an immense gift.

After six hours I was allowed to leave the pit and forced to walk around and around a sacred labyrinth (the ordeal took place on land that has had a stone labyrinth for years) then it was back to the pit for another six hours. Eventually, I was allowed to emerge into the darkness (it was after midnight) and I made the journey, naked, barefoot, exhausted from the pit through the woods back to my friend’s house. She let me go with the understanding that I had gleaned about half of the lessons I was meant to. I knew, walking through the woods in the pitch black darkness that there would be at least one more part to my Vanaheim ordeal. I was being given leeway to process the lessons She had given me first.

The second part of my ordeal took place under the guidance of Frey. He spoke to my adopted mother, and outlined a three day ordeal, also to take place at my friend’s farm. This was designed, I believe, to break me of my arrogance and disregard of my farmer ancestors. During the first day of the ordeal, I was required to work the land. I stayed with a friend who is a farmer and during this day, I worked for several hours in his vegetable garden, working the soil by hand. My adopted mother and I were permitted to eat one handful of food for each hour worked. The food had to be comprised of grains, fruits, or vegetables only and had to be organic.

On the second day of the ordeal, both I and my adopted mother were required to completely fast, consuming only water. During that time, I worked several hours in my friend’s vegetable garden. On the third day, there were no words given. Instead, I walked down to the field, the same field in which I had been buried for Nerthus. In the North end of this field stands a carved God-pole dedicated to Frey. There I made offerings to this God and listened to His words and His admonition: Remember. Remember what you have learned. Remember.

Frey’s Lesson:

Day One

“Peace is a terrible thing. It demands as many sacrifices and as much discipline as war. I, Ingvi Freyr, know this, who will die in battle, who can fight as fiercely as the best warriors, yet chose to become a hostage in the name of peace and for the sake of peace. No coward I, no pacifist, but yet I am a Peace-Keeper.

That is what you must learn, my child. That to be a warrior you have to honor peace and peace-keepers with the same immediacy you feel toward war and warriors. You who know to give equal respect to Odin and Loki without falling into the trap of either/or should give equal respect to war and peace.

To be a farmer is like being a priest and as sacred: Farmers are the hallowers and priests of my blood. Every year, I submit to my throat being scythed, to my blood being spilled to hallow and fructify the earth so it may nourish the people. Farmers are the link between my blood and people being fed. Without the farmer, my blood is spilled for nothing, for working the soil is the only rite that will give power to my sacrifice.

This is what you must learn, my child: that to be a priest you have to honor the farmer as your equal. Honor your farmer ancestors. If you miss a part, you miss the whole. I am Ingvi Freyr, Peace-Keeper and Fighter, and Farmer. Come to me on the third day.

During the first day remember, a whole season will be contained in this one day, and in that time you are the link between My blood, the earth and the sustaining of your foster mother. In that time, she is your old mother, your pregnant wife, your small daughter—all that which you love and which depends upon your holy skill and strength at farming. If you fail, My blood is disregarded, desecrated by neglect. Earth lies fallow and your loved ones starve.”

Day Two

“Today contains all of the next season and it will be hard because warriors rode through your land. They needed food so they took all they could, all you had worked for. They rode through the grain; they took your goat and most of your hens. They filled a sack with the contents of your storeroom. You have nothing. That is what war does to peace. That is partly why I became hostage. So work the soil, on an empty stomach, to salvage what you may of My blood and your effort so that you may not starve tomorrow. Today you will not be able to feed either yourself or your foster mother whom you love. That is what war does to peace.” (It is important to note that this was not an accusation. It was said without judgment. It was merely a statement of fact).

Day Three

On the third day, no words were given. I was expected to open myself to Freyr directly and to receive His wisdom. One of the things that I learned, I who am so proud of my warrior’s calling, was that war and peace, warriors and farmers are intertwined. Yes, the farmer is at the mercy of the warrior but so too is the warrior at the mercy of the farmer. One must always eat after all. I was reminded of the Napoleonic Wars when French forces tried to take Russia and the Russian farmers starved the invading soldiers by burning their own fields as they retreated giving the invading army no sustenance. That is the power of the farmer.

I know that there is still the final third of my Vanaheim ordeal to go: I must work with Freya. I’m not sure what form this work will take, but it seems for me, Vanaheim has become the central spiritual axis around which all the other ordeals revolve. Perhaps this is because finding the holy in the process of living, in embodiment, in the faulty nature of my own humanity has been an incredibly difficult process for me, perhaps because my warrior’s arrogance is so great, perhaps because the places and ways in which I am broken and scarred require this often terrifying balm. I don’t know. I only know that the Vanir have been immensely kind to me even as they have challenged and at times goaded me into knowledge. And I am grateful.


  1. My father-in-law was a farmer all his life. He was a young man during WW2, prime for recruitment, but he was given an exemption precisely because he *was* a farmer. He grew potatoes for the military, acres of them.
    We still use the ancient Farmall M tractor that he used; things were made durably back then.

    He died at 75, following knee joint replacement surgery for a bad knee he got while working hard in those days. He endured the pain for years, unwilling to take time off from farm work to get it fixed. Farming wears on you, much more than people realize.

    I never got on well with my father in law--he didn't think women could work as hard as men and this bugged me--but he did one amazing thing that I'll never forget. A developer came and was eyeing the farm for housing. He made my father in law a handsome offer, and the old guy looked him in the eye and said, "They can always mint more money, but they can't make more land. The answer is no."

    If not for the resolve of a very stubborn old man, this land would have disappeared.

    I've enjoyed your recounting of this Ordeal very much. Thank you.

  2. Thank you for sharing this remembrance of your father-in-law. It so beautifully reinforces everything that Frey tried to teach me during Vanaheim.