Mari Lwyd’s Weird Cousin

“Mari Lwyd, Lwyd Mari
A sacred thing through the night they carry.
Betrayed are the living, betrayed the dead
All are confused by a horse’s head.”

— Vernon Watkins, excerpt from Ballad of the Mari Lwyd

In late December I wandered into my living room, heading for the kitchen to get a drink of water. It was late evening on a random day and I wanted to satisfy my thirst before going to bed. On the quick trip from my bedroom to the kitchen I shifted my gaze down to my feet and pondered my cold toes. When I looked up again, I saw a black robed figure topped with the bony skull of a horse. He was standing at my front door, on the inside of my apartment  starting at me. At first my brain did not register his skull head as a horse. Then he bared his clearly equine teeth. The being looked like the Mari Lwyd, the Grey Mare, but minus the warm fuzzies. There was no white robe, flower crown, or seasonal bliss. The spirit at my door was quite disconcerting. Along with his large, strange teeth he had unnatural eyes and moved like a horror movie character.

I asked why he was in my living room. He said nothing. I saw the door open into the starry night. I looked out the door and then back at him. He gestured like the Ghost of Christmas Future from every A Christmas Carol television adaptation ever. Still he said nothing. In a few moments he was gone. Days later I received a message, clear as a bell in my mind’s ear: “Go now.” I immediately remembered him and his gesture toward the starry spirit road. The two moments were connected. The dark robed horse spirit had been my guide, or at least my heads up.

The message he made way for could not be ignored. As soon as I received the message to go now, I knew exactly which journey to begin. I’ve been preparing for it for quite a while. The door is open and the time is now. As soon as the message settled into my bones, I gathered what I needed and I set out.

The series of journeys at hand will be long and hard, but necessary.


Of Gods and Rivers

I identify as a devotional polytheist and spirit worker, among other things. I tend to view the gods, spirits, and other Holy Powers as distinct beings with unique personalities. This has been true for me for some time and remains true today. However, as my practice grows and changes, I’m starting to understand the common Neopagan bend toward archetypal forces. From my perspective, archetypes are the human mind’s best attempt at representing and accessing various flavors or currents of power or energy. I’ve found that archetypes seem simple and highly human-centered on the surface but in actuality they are the door and the key to vast worlds and mighty beings.
globe-691770_1920An archetype is a coordinate that our minds can use to locate and access a category or type of being that is otherwise difficult for us to begin to reach out to and connect with.  All connection and communication happens where two or more beings meet. Beings can only connect and communicate using the tools that they have. Archetypes are one tool that humans have for recognizing, trying to understand, and make meaning of patterns that have been, are, and will be. At various points in my religious and spiritual life, deity archetypes like “Maiden”, “Mother”, and “Crone” have served as stepping stones and launching pads into networks of powerful horizontal interwoven relationship that continue to enrich and deepen my understanding of myself, the worlds, the gods, the spirits, and my work betwixt and between.
I see now that I have encountered so many deities of certain “types” or of a certain “energy current” because I legitimately share harmony or resonance with those beings. I have strong ties to Underworld Gods and I also have inordinately strong connections with Star Gods. I’m learning that each river leads to the other if you follow it to its end and back again. Rising to meet Hekate and Odin and Dionysos, and so many other mighty powers led me to Loki, Lilith, Surtr and more. Deities like Hekate showed me that other deities cross currents. She drew me out into the liminal and the cosmic and beyond. Everyday I’m learning what it means to be and to identify as a spirit journeyer: one who fares forth, a wayfinder, a hedge crosser, a walker between worlds, etc.
waters-3065526_1920I feel like some important pieces are a little clearer to me these days. I (and probably most magical people) bathe in many rivers and the gods and spirits do too. When each of us – whether human, animal, plant, god, etc – looks up from our work in the river, others are staring back at us. Sometimes we merely notice one another and go about our business, other times we form bonds and connections and we help one another out, and/or we share wisdom. Magic is about connection and relationship. I am deepening my magic and my spirituality as a whole as I strengthen the bonds between me and the powers.
It has been my great joy to bathe among humans, animals, plants, gods, spirits, and then to run through the deep woods between rivers to other shores, dive deep into the currents there, and then dash back to bring them news of one another.

The Nine Worlds Series: Niflheim

In Norse lore, Niflheim is one of the first of the Nine Worlds to emerge into being. Mist-Home is filled with icy mountains and glaciers. The entire realm seemed perilously high but that may be because of where I landed upon entering the world. Obviously, Niflheim is also frigidly cold. The whole world is bombarded with snow and wind, and heavy grey clouds hang in the sky. These were my observations on my first travel excursion to Niflheim nearly a year ago.

I’ve visited Nifl-World a few times since then. One foggy night nearly six months after my very first trip, I visited by astral home and from there made my way to Niflheim. I eventually found the road that I had been shown so many times before and I struggled to move at all. The snow was deep and frigid cold. The wind was howling and a storm was gathering. I made a tiny bit of progress along the way. As the storm gathered, I thought about seeking shelter and in an instant I ended up in a small cave that I think belonged to an ice giant or some other denizen of the realm. The owner of the home, such as it was, was nowhere in sight. The walls of the space were pale and a small window faced the gathering storm in the southwest. The room was warmer than the outdoors but I did not linger. I gathered myself and all of my accompanying parts and left post-haste. I desperately needed the warmth and took ease where I shouldn’t have.

When I returned to the road I paused to ask my guide why I was having so much trouble. I was incredibly frustrated with the lack of progress on this journey so I had to ask. My guide spoke of the sluggish nature of Isa and of the toilsome work embodied by Nauthiz. My journey through Niflheim having been supported by these two runic forces was mired in their might, for better or worse. My guide added that various parts of my soul are energetically compatible with Niflheim and other parts are less so which adds to my challenges with navigating this world.

After sharing these tidbits with me he showed me flashes of the Nifl-Giants, most slow moving and the oldest ones appearing completely unmoving to the naked eye, but all of them present and aware and active in their own way. I understood that they figure time, energy, and awareness differently than I do. What had felt like a literally glacial pace to me was just another hectic day to them.

In a previous divination session and another meditation I was told that my time in Niflheim would be lengthy. My guide’s comments about the flow of Nifl life helped me to see that basically I need to slow down and focus in order to get anywhere or do anything in Niflheim. Again time, energy, and everything are figured differently here. His call was not for the slow ease of a Caribbean vacation but for the careful, meditative engagement that comes through a wise mind sharply focused on a task – which is pretty slow if not “easy”.

After I received my guide’s rede I collected myself and returned to the middle world. I opened my eyes and gasped at the time because what had felt to me like a 30-minute astral journey had in fact been two hours.

When considering the runes that rule this world, a few came to mind. Mist-Home has strong Isa might of course, and Hagalaz factors prominently as well in the form of the cosmic seed. For humans, Nauthiz is a part of Niflheim too because it provides the needed spark of warmth, light, and life to deliver us from the Bone Chill of Mist-Home. I say Nauthiz instead of Kenaz because Nauthiz is is the red blinking emergency light to Kenaz’s warm white hall light. Nauthiz is the last light, the only light, the one standing between us and the teeming hordes of the yawning dark. Nauthiz is the warding force at the edge of the camp fire keeping the predators at bay.

When facing the challenges of Niflhiem, at the human scale of power, the Hrimthursar can’t be bested by overpowering (too much energy) or erosion (too much time). The Rime Thursar can’t be trampled over. They must be worked around or worked with, like mighty glaciers. Glaciers move extremely slowly and yet are powerful beyond compare. They are destructive and also creative – sculpting the continents and nourishing life on Earth for eons. Never forget, the first Well – Hverglmir – emanates from Niflheim.

After having been to Niflheim a few times, here’s some travel advice gained from a giantess I met on my first visit and from experience there after:

  1. Do not travel in human form. The mountains have eyes and humans are generally unwelcome in this realm.
  2. Do not use fire often. It may act as a beacon for woe.
  3. Do not wander in this world. One should be here with a purpose so stay on the road presented to you.
  4. Keep moving! Slow and steady.
  5. If challenged on the way, speak the name of the Power who protects you and under whose auspices you travels. If you are allied with no such being, reconsider your travel plans.
  6. Navigate the storms (and all of this world) with great care. It lives. I’ve found this to be just as true of the Eight Worlds as of our One World.

Blessed Travels!