Gnosis Diary: Life as a Heathen

My personal experiences, including religious and spiritual experiences, community interaction, general heathenry, and modern life on my heathen path, which is Asatru.

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A Present from Hel

I was in my garden digging planting holes. This had been the asparagus bed for years, but it hadn’t produced any spears this spring and my mom wanted to put petunias there. I turned over several asparagus crowns, flat with thick roots. I wanted to replant them, give them a chance to see if they would grow again. I wasn’t thinking about last week’s ritual.

That weekend we had celebrated the coming of spring 2019.  I had participated in a three round sumbel, which is a heathen toasting ritual. On the second round we drank to ancestors. ‘Ancestors’ doesn’t have to mean the dead. I decided to toast my mom, who is still alive. “Alive and kicking. Literally kicking,” I said, to which the host agreed, with a chuckle. But the end was getting nearer. I had asked her a few weeks before about her afterlife plans, obliquely, since she’s an atheist; I asked if she could come back as a cow, her favorite animal, would she want to. She did not; she expected to experience nothing, remember nothing, feel nothing, after death. As she often had told me before, she reiterated that she didn’t want anyone praying over her at her funeral. She wasn’t going to want me to create a shrine to her after her death. She wasn’t going to want me to give her little gifts and sacrifices like I do with gods and the landwight and other beings. So as I held the horn of Viking Blod, I said, “She doesn’t want to be reborn. She doesn’t want an afterlife with the gods. She wants the oblivion of Hel. She wants to be ground by Holle’s Mill back into the tiniest of parts to be reused in other life.” This toast was to my mom, but it was also partly to Hel, also called Hela, the goddess who rules the realm also called Hel. Although the name of Hel was borrowed to translate the name of the Christian Hell into English, our Hel is not a bad place. It’s just the place of the dead. I knew that, and I had accepted death in the abstract, but in the concrete?

So, a few days after that ritual, I was shoveling up little dry asparagus corpses. My mom said, “Those are dead.” She was right. I stopped trying to replant them. I dug the holes ready for mom’s flowers. The moment I accepted death—in the concrete, in the form of dead plants I had to let go of to have room for the already-blooming flowers that needed to be planted there—something round was in the dirt on my shovel. I picked it up and wiped the heavy clay soil off. It was clear and blue, and it was not really round, only half round.

“What’s that?” mom asked.

“A present from the earth,” I said. But I was not sure if it was from the earth—Jord, or Nerthus—or from Hela. I knew what it meant; I knew it was about the acceptance of death. I put it in the spiritual souvenir shrine on my wall in my room. Later that day, I went into town, and on the way home, I was thinking about whether that came from Jord or from Hel. I decided to try looking for bird omens. “Is the present from Hel?” I asked, a yes or no question. The next bird I saw would be the answer. In keeping with the way bird omens work, a black or brown bird would mean yes.

I had been hearing and seeing lots of birds, and other springtime wildlife, right up until I asked my question, and then nothing. Several minutes went by as I drove and saw no birds. Then I thought, maybe I should use my godphone. Just listen inside instead of trying to use the bird omens. But I had never communicated like that with Hel, or with Jord or Nerthus either. I wasn’t sure if I had their number, as it were. But I asked. And I listened. And I got a response right away: It’s from Hel.

“OK,” I said. And the very next instant, a dark bird flew across my path. I laughed out loud.

Back home, I put on some of the Hidden Goddess perfume in honor of Hel.

Image: glass bottles, photo by Erin Lale

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Erin Lale is the author of Asatru For Beginners, and the updated, longer version of her book, Asatru: A Beginner's Guide to the Heathen Path. Erin has been a gythia since 1989. She was the editor and publisher of Berserkrgangr Magazine, and is admin/ owner of the Asatru Facebook Forum. She also writes science fiction and poetry, ran for public office, is a dyer and fiber artist, was acquisitions editor at a small press, and founded the Heathen Visibility Project.


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