Wayfaring Woman: Honoring Hekate in the Rite of Her Sacred Fires

Hekate Kerberos Herakles

Hekate with Twin Torches, from ancient Greek vase

I have updated my Wayfaring Woman column at The Agora on Patheos.com. Check out my latest post, Honoring Hekate in the Rite of Her Sacred Fires!

Memento Mori

staglieno-664597_1280This Samhain season I am reminded of a night not too long ago when I was afraid of a Dead Girl, the young Victorian I’d seen earlier in the day while doing research. She was pictured in perfect resolution, frozen in time at the point of her passing, eyes fixed in an empty stare. Early photography was never crystal clear because the living moved – a shiver, a sniffle, a sigh – during the long exposure times required for those early photo ops. However, the recently dead who were sometimes featured alongside their living family appeared in perfect resolution. The contrast captured in those old images is surreal and quite stunning. And so it was that I saw the Young Dead Victorian Girl and she seemed to see me. I couldn’t sleep for hours that night. I told myself that I wasn’t afraid, that I was just enjoying a game of 2048 at 3 in the morning for no particular reason, but that was a lie of course. Eventually I set the game aside and laid my head down on the pillow despite my fear, but the Dead Girl lay next to me, ice cold and staring, as if asking me to part the veil between life and death and join her in final rest.

She was young and beautiful, and quite over. Her hollow eyes a testament to the fact that the lights had gone out in her before anyone was able to fully know the soul that lived there. She was not a shade who had come to terrorize me, but she was my own mind’s most recent projection of mortal fear. Her haunting photographic memorial was my memento mori. As I tossed and turned in bed I worked to shatter my own fear of dying without having “really lived”, whatever that means.

With firm intent I confronted the hollow-eyed, pale Dead Girl. I grew larger in the process and, with the building righteous indignation, I became part human and part serpent. I coiled and quaked, allowing my mounting might to affirm my living, breathing being in that moment. To quote a random bit of a Star Trek Voyager episode, “I wrestled my tremors to rages”. I transformed my fearful bedtime thrashing into a courageous banishing of my own terror. Half human, half-serpent, and writhing I shouted, “How dare you emerge to terrorize me? I alone am the thing that roves the inner dark!”

With that admonition the Young Dead Victorian Girl was gone, and immediately I felt Hekate’s embrace. She lifted me into dream and showed me the way to another place, whispering all the while: “Now we can begin.”

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Gerdr, She of the Sacred Enclosure

condesign/ pixabay.com

condesign/ pixabay.com

Gerdr is attested in the Poetic Edda and Prose Edda, as well as the Heimskringla. She features prominently in the Skirnismal contained in the Poetic Edda. In that lay, Freyr sits upon Hlidskjalf, Odin’s High Seat, and stares into Jotunheim where he catches sight of Gerdr within her father’s hall. Gerdr’s beauty is undeniable and Freyr is immediately love struck. Determined to wed Gerdr, Freyr sends his aid, Skirnir with many gifts to woo the fair-armed etin woman. Skirnir arrives and attempts to entice Gerdr one by one with rich and shining offerings of Freyr’s love. She declines each and every treasure and does not accept Freyr’s hand until Skirnir threatens her with a dark fate wrought by Skirnir’s own powerful rune magic. Then she offers Skirnir a horn of mead and agrees to meet Freyr at Barri – a sacred grove or island – in nine nights where they will be wed.

There are a few theories about the significance of Gerdr’s change in attitude toward Freyr following Skirnir’s threats. I prefer readings of the myth that suggest Gerdr made a choice, less compelled by Skirnir’s threats than by the future she planned for herself. I am also fond of the idea that Freyr’s nine-nights of waiting are analogous to Odin’t nine-nights hanging, i.e., an initiation. In any case, Freyr and Gerdr marry. Their myth is typically understood as a metaphor for the breaking of the cold, hard winter earth with the plow in order to sow seed and make the earth fertile in spring.

Skyrnir and Gerda (1920) by Harry George Theaker

Skyrnir and Gerda (1920) by Harry George Theaker

Generally, it seems that Gerdr is most often perceived as an earth etin, which is consistent with the lore we have about her. Her name appears to be closely related to the word garth and may mean something akin to “sacred enclosure”. Drawing upon this possible meaning of Gerdr’s name, her might may be interwoven with the claiming, settling, and cultivation of land. In the lore, Freyr seems to be the force, via Skirnir, appealing to her to choose the path of fruitfulness by actively cooperating in the process of settling and cultivation. Freyr is no bandit come to rape the land and make off with her resources; I think that this can’t be stressed enough, for Freyr has never made a woman cry according to the Lokasenna. No, Freyr is come to join with the land in partnership. He has no rights to the land, only privileges that she eventually grants, and that she may rescind at any time.

In my encounters with Gerdr between the worlds, I often experience her as self-contained and content with simple pleasures. I do not perceive her as glamorous but she is undeniably beautiful. Her will and might are palpable in each interaction I’ve had with her. When I come upon her, she is often tending her garden which is filled with an array of medicinal, magical, and simply beautiful plants and flowers. When Freyr seeks rest and calm support, he comes to Gerdr’s gardens, to the enclosure of Gerdr’s arms.

Gerdr has taught me a great deal about boundaries over the years. As Lady of Sacred Enclosures, she is quite concerned with what’s in and what’s out. During my time with her, I have adopted that same concern. Gerdr’s might says that it is not only fine but down-right good and necessary to have clear borders. Hers is might that has taught me when and how to establish and enforce boundaries, and with whom to establish plain old sky-high walls. I discovered great power in choosing who to allow and who to bar, who to partner with and who to send packing: Gerdr taught me well. She teaches me still. I shudder to think of Skirnir’s fate had Gerdr been less swayed by his “argument”.

In addition, Gerdr has taught me what it means to live in my own skin and take up my own space. I have been described as many things and reserved is often near the top of the list. At times I thought I needed to be more “out there”. Of course in some ways I could benefit from that change in behavior, but my reserved nature is by no means a failing. My reserved nature is very much interwoven with my introversion among other things. With that said, I am at home within my garden, and Gerdr helped me learn how to accept that important and powerful part of my personality.

And so I say hail to you, Gerdr, Lady of the Sacred Enclosure!! May your blessings grow well in the capable hands of those willing to cultivate your mysteries.

The God Loki: Conversations and Encounters

"Lokasenna" by Lorenz Frølich

“Lokasenna” by Lorenz Frølich

In the early days of my spiritual walk, I shied away from Loki. Many bristled at the thought of honoring him, as did I. I wasn’t ready to venture down that ominous and uncertain foot path. But he was never far from my awareness. In the lore of the Norse gods, Loki often appears alongside Odin. Loki is the Wise One’s blood brother and so I often found myself torn each time I lifted a horn to the One-Eyed Wanderer, because as Odin’s blood brother Loki should have his due as well. Still I resisted the urge to honor him, but it felt increasingly silly to ignore the whisper in my heart. And so I began to quietly pour a libation for him. No solemn words of obligation were uttered. No grand invocations were made. Only a shot glass of something hard and sweet meted out for him, and no more. The more I learned of him the more I wanted to sing, but I bit my tongue and choked down his praises. It was too soon, I thought. I’d only really just tapped my toe on the winding path.

Then there was the dry and desolate land between Midgard’s and Jotunheim’s edge. It was a place that belonged to neither world, and that is where I first met the coyote spirit that I now know to have been touched by both Odin and Loki. Coyote-Loki, with a glint in his eye and a grin on his lips, attempted to sweet talk me back into my comfort zone, the one I could easily die and rot in. Father of Lies my mind screamed. He spoke, sweet and sly, and every word made me want another. I wanted to pay with my soul for the next utterance and the next but I resisted him. I had to this time. I really had to. He stood in Coyote Man form whispering of fear and inadequacy. Destroyer. I stilled myself and listened harder, letting the echoes of fear and inadequacy break against me. It was then that I heard an opportunity to manifest soul might and to deepen my understanding of the worlds and the spaces between. Shapeshifter. Worlds-Traveler.

I poured out still more honey whiskey over the months and years and I saw more of him. When he comes he is charming and clever, and his message is strangely clear. He emerges from liminal places: the borderland between Midgard and Jotunheim, crevices in the walls, sink drains, corners of awareness, and the edge of the wood. I have in fact seen him most often at the edge of Ironwood staring into the dense foliage toward my cave-home or toward Angrboda’s hall. Each time I see him, he lures me toward the shadow and all that comes with it. He draws me toward profound connection, fuller knowledge, and deeper understanding of him, of the Giant-Kin, of myself, and of Jotun-Home. Loki knows what is told of in the lore, and he knows what the lorekeepers chose to leave out. He entices me with clear sight, true words, and necessary action, and with promises of change, transformation, and a fucking good time.

"Loki's Flight to Jötunheim" by W. G. Collingwood

“Loki’s Flight to Jötunheim” by W. G. Collingwood

I have come to know him as mother and father, as well as sister and brother of the teeming hordes of Shadow. Every time he notes a boundary and tests/crosses it, he acknowledges the order and undermines it simultaneously. He moves within mainstream culture when it suits him and he also permeates sub-culture, edge culture, and no culture at all. He is the lie his own culture told about what is, what isn’t, and what should never be. He is the one who can teaches us how to not only survive but thrive on the edge and along the margins of societies and worlds. He is misrule and, just as significantly, the undeniable reality of every rule’s sanctioned exception. He’s the squeaky wheel that betrays the system’s shoddy workmanship. I have only scratched the most superficial layer of him.

Loki often inspires me to reach my full potential and he usually does that by instigating shadow work. I have learned that we maximize our growth and development by facing our inner demons. From my perspective that dangerous but necessary mission is not about conquering them so much as it is about learning where those demons come from and what their agendas are. Humans are nothing if not adaptable. Our demons formed for a reason; they serve a purpose. Some outlive their purpose and wreak havoc by continuing to do what they were originally made to do long after we no longer need them to do it. And so I’ve found that inner demons have to be decommissioned, not bludgeoned with an ego stick, because then they just crawl into a hole, nurse their wounds, and come back with a vengeance! Loki has rapport with things (internal and external) that gum up the works, the ones that gum things up on purpose and the ones that gum things up accidentally!

When things get sticky it is not unusual for him to send as messenger a creature that I despise in order to convey an important message. For instance, I have a vehement hatred toward bettles (which is what I have to call cockroaches in order to keep from wanting to claw my face off) and he has insisted upon sending that abhorrent creature three or so times over the years. He has raided my life in other clever and unexpected ways too and each time it was when I had grown bored and complacent with (unsatisfying and unfulfilling) business as usual.  My demons often encourage me to freeze, avoid, or play possum and when that happens Loki whistles in my direction to stir a changing wind. Each time I get these rude awakenings, I redouble my efforts to live in a way that manifests the full range of my gifts and that ignites my desire to live fully. Loki does not tolerate devotees who shrink away from their wyrd. We are often verbal and vocal people whose reflections and insights can be of use to others. Somewhat ironically, Loki suffers no illusions or delusions among his devotees. On occasion we may see fit to project a few but we are strictly forbidden from believing our own lies, or our own self-serving hype for that matter.

Hail to you Loki, Mighty Father of Truths and Lies. Hail to He Who Is Flame-Haired, Sly, and Wise.