Do not stand at my grave and weep
I am not there; I do not sleep.
I am a thousand winds that blow,
I am the diamond glints on snow,
I am the sun on ripened grain,
I am the gentle autumn rain.
When you awaken in the morning’s hush
I am the swift uplifting rush
Of quiet birds in circled flight.
I am the soft stars that shine at night.
Do not stand at my grave and cry,
I am not there; I did not die.
-Mary Elizabeth Frye
The first time I hear this poem it was actually converted into a song that my younger brother’s choir was singing. It seriously gave me chills.
I do not fear death, it is an inevitability. Do I want to die right now? Of course not, I still have a lot to do but when my time comes, that’s it and I do not fear it.
I’ve already made plans for what I want done with my body after I die and I’ve made sure everyone I love knows this.
I’m sure those of you active on Facebook have seen these pictures or something like it:
That’s where I originally got the idea. I always knew I wanted to be cremated, no sense in adding another coffin to the earth, but this is genius.
I want to be turned into a weeping willow.
To me they are the most beautiful trees, and they have a bit of a nostalgia factor. As a kid I spent quite a bit of time with grandparents at their apartment and at one part of the apartment complex there was a great big weeping willow. I was always fascinated by it.
Digging only slightly into Celtic tree meanings the Willow has strong associations to water and the moon, both of which my sign Cancer also has strong associations with so that was an interesting tidbit I found.
Any way, back on topic.
I’ve also made it perfectly clear to my loved ones that I don’t want any sort of funeral. I’ve also threatened to haunt anyone that cries. I don’t want the fact that I died to be the only thing they think about. I’d rather a celebration of the life I had, a party not a funeral.
I tend to look at it pretty subjectively. I still don’t really know what will happen to me after this life is over. Thor may claim me, Freya may claim me, I might end up wit Hel (because let’s face the facts, the chances of me dying in battle are pretty slim), I just might end up reincarnating again. All I can do is tell my loved ones what I want done with this body after I’m done with it. That is, after any parts useful are taken (organ donor). I’d like as much good to come out of my passing as possible.
She is definitely one of the Goddesses that gets little attention, and when she does people tend to think of her as evil. Why? Because people think anything associated with death is evil, except Death is the absolute Neutral. Personally in pagan religions, I don’t really see “evil” as a thing (in reference to Gods, people can definitely be evil). There is light and dark. Both need to be worked with or there is no balance. But that’s getting off topic.
Hel (means Hidden in Old Norse), the Goddess of the dead, daughter of Loki and Angrboda, born in the Ironwood.
She is known as Hel, Hela, Halja, or (some say) Leikin (the name the Alfar call her, not sure on that one though). The Goddess to whom “all is seen”.
There isn’t much in the way of information about her in the lore. The most prominent story is that of her involvement in the story of Baldur’s death.
Following the death of Baldur, the goddess Frigga sends Hermóðr to offer Hel ransom. Hermóðr begs Hel to allow his brother to return home, because Baldur is so loved by the gods of the Æsir. Hel tells him only if all things in the world, alive or dead, weep for him, then he will be allowed to return to the Æsir. A female jotun refused so He stayed.
The prominence to this (though most only pay attention to the Loki part) is that even the Gods are not above Death.
She has the wolf Garm who resides in Gnipahellir, sometimes used interchangeably with Her brother Fenrir (which my belief is He doesn’t guard Helheim like Garm but does work with His sister), as one of the gaurds. The other being Modgud.
Garm is a new one to me. Most of what I see really equates him with Fenrir so I am pretty iffy about Him. They say to appease him you give him a piece of cake, but only after you have already given bread to the poor.
Modgud, called the Guardian Goddess, gaurds the bridge (Giallarbru) over the river Gjoll which leads to Helheim. Not finding much on Her so far.
I also see Hel as having a nature aspect. In modern times (especially for pagans) we have a romanticized view of nature. We see it as this sort of beautiful thing. Nature is beautiful, yes, but it is also dangerous, unfeeling and always renewing itself. I think of Hel having a nature aspect in the death of things to make room for the new. Animals die, rot in the earth to provide nutrients for new life. The forest fires that clear out the dead from the forest floor and enriches the soil for new growth. Death is a very important part of the cycle in Life. It is a necessity.
I do not by any means think I am any kind of expert on the Lady of Death. I don’t really even have a working relationship with Her at the moment. I’m doing what I always do. Research.
Why am I including Her in the Ancestor series? Because She is the one that cares for Them.
There is this romanticized notion in the Heathen community that we all want to go to Valhalla. That really isn’t realistic, especially in modern times. Our ancestors, before Christianization (which the Christian ancestors are a different story and will be touched on a later post) didn’t all die in battle and most likely didn’t get claimed by a certain God to take to Their hall. That leaves only Helheim, where Hel cares for them.
Symbols: Skull, red roses, dried roses, bones, “Day of the Dead”-type skeleton images
Altar suggestions: Skulls, skeleton images, grave rubbings, skeletal hands, bones, dried roses, black shrouds, black mirror, black and white candles, plantain leaves, rue, wormwood, yarrow, yew, the runes Ear (sometimes combined with Raido for the Helroad) and Hagalaz, sometimes Othala. It is not uncommon for a Hel altar to be an ancestor harrow as well, with pictures of and offerings to one’s own beloved Dead.
Food and drink: Tea, good wine, apples (Hel has an orchard of Her own); meat, bread, soup, meals that your ancestors would have liked, blood; good quality chocolate, coffee beans. Hel likes dried, well-preserved flowers, especially dried roses. She also likes blood, as do all the Death deities. Some people offer her tea, or food that can sit on an altar and rot. (Don’t take it away until it is entirely desiccated, no matter what happens.) Don’t approach her altar with an unhealthy attitude toward death and decay.
When I am finally able to set up my Ancestor Altar (money is the issue on buying stuff for it), Hel will definitely have a special place.
She will be touched on more as I go through this series, and I maybe even start up a relationship with Her.
I’ve met Her once. I see her as being half pale and half blue-black (think frostbite), the pale half having darker dirty blonde hair and the blue-black half with almost white hair. She is quite beautiful, but forces you to look at the not so beautiful aspects of Death right in the face.
If any of you have more information (or if anything you see here is inaccurate) please share.
There are a couple things that inspired this. Mostly when I was introducing Shadow to a bit of the lore on Loki when he became interested in her.
Loki is truly the most complicated in the Nordic path (in my eyes anyhow), undoubtedly the most hated as a general rule.
I was going through as many of the stories as I could off the top of my head while we were taking a trip together to one of the very few pagan type stores anywhere near where we live. I explained to her that when she does look more into it, to not to take the actions of Loki in the coming Ragnarök personally.
Ragnarök is a bit of a complicated subject. A lot tend to believe that it is a Christian invention, putting an end to our Gods to start anew with the “Adam and Eve” type surviving.
Let’s go with it not being a Christian invention for the sake of the rest of my explanation.
This is my feelings on it. It’s destined, and even the All Father knows it can’t be changed. It is the end of the old and the beginning of new and presumably better. You can’t start with the new if the old isn’t completely destroyed, however painful that may be. As well as with human nature, we need a bad guy. We need someone that we can point our finger at and say, that’s the one, he’s evil and the one the good guy(s) go against. This feeling almost clashes with the want to find something good in the villain. To love and hate the person, not just love to hate.
This brings me to the title of this post – Death, referring to the ever ominous tarot card. Typically shown in horror movies in the dun dun Dun! moment, showing whoever was dealt that card that they were going to die. Obviously, that’s in the movies, not reality. This perception though, has colored the view of this card. When I do readings, I always explain that the card is simply the end of something to give way to a new beginning. It is not to be feared. The end of whatever that is may be painful; you just have to hold on until it’s through and look forward to the new beginnings it will bring.
Personally I don’t fear death. It’s an inevitability. No point in fearing it, when it’s going to happen whether you want it to or not. For me, I see one of two possibilities. One, reincarnation, a possible new adventure. Two, most likely Helheim. This is where my inexperience really comes into play. From my understanding, generally Helheim is peaceful, unless you were a honorless asshole. Then, well, Hel may have other plans for you. Doesn’t seem so scary to me. Either way, something new and possibly better.
Moral of the story here: to me, Loki, Hel and Death (the card) are all misunderstood as something or someone to be feared or hated.
If you take everything at face value, you will never get any depth.
A personal journal to share my artistic works, to write about Norse shamanism and traditional paganism, European History, Archaeology, Runes, Working with the Gods and my personal experiences in Norse shamanic practices.