Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Goddess of the Week

This week's Goddess is Hel, Norse Goddess of Death and ruler over Niflheim ("Mist-Home"), one of the realms of the dead; those who had died accidentally, or of sickness or old age came to Her realm.

She was said to be the daughter of Angrboða ("She Who Brings Sorrow"), a jötunn or giantess, and the God Loki (Who is also technically a giant or jötunn, though accepted into the circles of the Gods). Hel is described as being half alive and half dead, of foreboding expression. She was given Her realm by Odin, Who gave Her power over the Nine Worlds, i.e., the whole of creation; meaning, I assume, that all is mortal and will come to an end, including the Gods, Who are fated to die in Ragnarök.

When the well-loved bright and shiny God Baldr was killed through the machinations of Loki, the Gods much mourned His loss. Determined to do something about it, the God Hermod rode off to Hel's realm to try to bargain with Her; though She seemed a bit skeptical that Baldr had been quite that well-loved, She agreed to let Him (and His wife Nanna, Who had died of grief at His death) go back to the realm of the living on one condition: all things, living, dead, animate or inanimate, must shed a tear for Him.

It would have worked, too, save for the giantess Þökk, who didn't think Baldr was quite all that and a bag of chips; and so Baldr remained (remains) with Hel in Niflheim. Þökk, of course, was Loki in disguise.

Now someone as bright, as beautiful, as good and as perfectly one-dimensional as Baldr is of course not realistic; and I have always felt the legend of His death to be a sort of repudiation of that kind of naïve vision of things. Because life is more complicated than that; and nothing is wholly good, or wholly of the light. And I have to say I have always agreed with Þökk. Death cannot be cheated; not because it is breaking the rules, but because it isn't the natural order of things. It isn't right.

Interestingly enough, some versions of the myth say that Hel is the same as Skuld, the Norn or Fate of the Future; also the Winter-God Ullr, sometimes husband of Skaði, is said to spend a couple of months of the year in Niflheim as Hel's lover.

Hel is half alive and half dead, half light and half dark; and I have always considered this a card of balance and integration, though Her legends may seem to be weighed towards the dark. That She has a lover, though, is a point or two for the living, the light side of things; and I suspect He is Her summer lover (when would a God of Winter be said to be in Niflheim, i.e., dead? Summer, I'd guess). So Hel is not all dark. Nor is She necessarily unreasonable, though She is, it is true, rather unsympathetic. It's a good trait in a Death-Goddess, I imagine.

So I think the message this week is about finding the balance within a situation that appears dark, or looking into a place inside you you have thought dark or dead and finding the light and life there. And then seeing how the two support and harmonize with each other, or how the two are integrated. Integration, after all, brings integrity, both of the physical or structural kind as well as the moral kind. And if there is one thing Hel is, She is strong.

So what does She say?

Do not think you may cheat; all come to me. All the natural deaths, all the non-violent ones. Why is violence celebrated in my world? Because glory and daring are celebrated, though I suspect you see right through that. It is not all as dreary as they would make it in my realm; and anyway who wants to be surrounded by drunken boasting heroes for what is left of time? Rest is a very good thing.

I am the black and the white; I am the shades of grey; I am the mist that cloaks. Do not forget that Hvergelmir, the roaring cauldron giving birth to the twelve rivers, bursts forth from my realm; I have a hand in inspiration too, you know. There is far more here than you think.

I am on the one hand and I am on the other hand. It all comes to me in the end.

Well. What do you think?

1 comment:

anpuchai said...

I really liked the message portrayed here in reference to Hel. I really like your perspective. You are a very inspiring artist with an ear to the gods/goddesses. Thanks for sharing.