Categotry Archives: rökkr

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Wholly: A Devotional for Hela – Dagian Madir

Categories: northern trad, rökkr

It’s full disclosure time once again: I created the cover art for this Hela devotional, and also contributed a few pieces of writing and some internal illustrations. So, proceed with due caution. With that out of the way, Wholly: A Devotional for Hela is, perhaps not surprisingly, a devotional for Hela, published by Asphodel Press and edited by Dagian Madir. It presents a combination of essays, poetry, prayers, rituals and artwork, compiling contributions from around the world.

Madir’s opening essay, The Day I Became Hel’s, sets the experiential tone for much of the content of Wholly. They describe how they first encountered Hela, in an experience that amounts to shamanic dismemberment, and then proceed to give a synopsis of Hela’s attributes, highlighting Her role as She who, in Her divided state, makes whole. Madir contributes several other essays throughout this volume, considering the role of death in the everyday, and of loving Hela as a form of devotional practice.

Other articles are provided by Fuensanta Plaza, who writes about euthanasia in The Good Death, and Gudrun Mimirsbrunnr, who rather wonderfully describes Hela as being found “in silence, in dust, in the workings of insects.”  Galina Krasskova, as someone who belongs to Odin, provides an interesting angle in describing her encounters with Hela, while Silence Maestas does likewise and writes of their sometimes turbulent relationship with Hela from the perspective of someone who primarily works with Loki. Raven Kaldera contributes two pieces, one a summary of Hela’s characteristics, and another, Mercy and Unmercy, a consideration of Hela in relation to the passage between life and death, particularly in cases of difficult transitions. The relationship between Hela and the dead is, naturally, an important one and other writers consider it too, with Lydia Helasdottir writing of ministering to the dying in a piece considering various ways of Working with Hela, while Silence Maestas discusses offerings of food to the dead.

Many of these articles are written from a personal perspective and come across as testimonials, almost as if they’re customer reviews on an auction website, describing the services Hela offers and whether they’d trade with Her again. Most say A++ seller, would trade again. Despite this rather pragmatic interpretation of this content, taken as whole, these articles do act as viable meditations on Hela. While these contributions contain little of the poetic or flowery language typical of devotional literature, a focused reading of them does prove to be an effective way of meditating on Hela’s nature.

The poetic language is largely reserved for the section of poetry that follows. This content is more obviously devotional in its intent, with some directly addressing Hela as invocations and others poetically exploring a narrative. Highlights include Talas Valravyn’s A Ritual For Hela, in which instructions for an impossible, unless metaphorical, ritual are rendered poetic, while one of the strongest pure invocations is Kaldera’s For Hela, In All Extremity. Here, Hela is called by successive verse in the names of darkness, decay, cold, silence, bones, loss, death and ultimately, regeneration.

Young Hela by Abby Helasdottir

While some of entries in the poetry section could be considered prayers, Wholly follows those with a separate section of prayers, all penned by Madir. These are probably the most intensely devotional of all the contents of this book, calling to mind Ramprasad Sen’s Shyama Sangeet hymns to Kali. These nine prayers have a rhapsodic, almost giddy and all-consuming quality, providing a profound address to Hela for everything from gratitude for daily bread to the need to let go of things.

The concluding section of Wholly provides a few rituals and meditations, with the slight contributor list consisting of Kaldera and Madir. There’s nothing wrong with that though, as it’s better to have a few solid rituals, rather than a lot of pointless fluff. Kaldera’s contribution is a reprint of his Hela ritual outline from the Pagan Book of Hours, while Madir gives a cemetery meditation and a corpse pose ritual. Both are good, solid guides that provide more than the usual unimaginative rigmarole from modern grimoires: cast this circle, visualise this sigil, hope stuff goes down.

One minor problem with Wholly is that it was a work long in the making and as a result, some of the material has a familiarity from being featured elsewhere. Kaldera’s Hela appeared in his Jotunbok, as did the pieces from Gudrun Mimirsbrunnr and Lydia Helasdottir, amongst others. I’m guilty of this too, as one of my contributions, the suite of planetary poems for Hela, has appeared previously in the Jotunbok and before that, on the Shadowlight website. In saying that, though, over half of the material is new and having both the old and new together in a single volume makes this an indispensable book for those with an interest in Hela specifically or the Rökkr in general. The range of contributors is wide and what is interesting is how, despite the geographical gulfs between them, there is a consistency in language and spirit, with Hela described and summarised in the same way despite so many different voices.

Published by Asphodel Press. ISBN 978-1-938197-00-0

Mortal Fear by Abby Helasdottir

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Gullveigarbók – Vexior, 218

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Categories: anticosmic, northern trad, rökkr

Gullveigarbok coverPublished by Spanish press Fall of Man, Gullveigarbók is a seemingly little-known consideration of the Rökkr witch goddess Angrboda with, as the title implies, a preference for her name of Gullveig. Given the subject matter, one would expect that the author has come across my writings or those of Raven Kaldera (and other writers published by Asphodel Press), but other than one small passing reference to Kaldera, there is no indication of this. Instead, and as the author’s own name suggests, Gullveig is considered from something of a Temple of the Black Light perspective, with the writing sharing a language and tone similar to publications from that organisation. As a result, there is much talk of anti-cosmic Chaos-powers, with Odin identified as a demiurge of false light analogous to figures from Gnosticism and mythology, who is opposed by the Thursian forces that seek to return creation to the primal state of the void of Ginnungagap. For Vexior, Gullveig and Loki are seen as analogues of Lilith and Lucifer, with Lilith’s exile to the Red Sea being mirrored by Gullveig taking up residence in the liminal Iron Wood and with both goddesses sharing attributes of sexual and procreative independence. The relationship between Gullveig and Loki, as two shape (and gender) shifting male and female halves of a single being, is compared to that of Lilith and Samael, who appear in the Zohar as androgynous twins emerging from an emanation beneath the Throne of Glory.

Taking the theme of Gullveig’s three-fold burning as a pivotal moment, Vexior divides her into three aspects: the queen of the Iron Wood as Gullveig proper, as the witchcraft-working Heidr, and as Aurboða, the mother of Gerda. As this latter identification highlights, this book is heavily indebted to the work of Victor Rydberg, and anyone familiar with his oft-times torturous (but frequently intriguing) thematic and linguistics leaps will recognise much here. Following Rydberg’s lead, Gullveig is identified with Hyrrokin, and with Hljóð, the giant-born maiden of Frigga who was sent with an apple to Rerir, the father of the hero Volsung.

Gullveig, Heid and Aurboda

In addition to his consideration of Gullveig in all her guises, Vexior briefly explores Loki as well as the couple’s children, Hela, Fenrir and Jormungandr. Indeed, Vexior sees the three-fold burning of Gullveig as a process that not only divided her into three aspects but sequentially gave birth to this trio.

Following the more theoretical segments that make up the majority of the book, Gullveigarbók concludes with two sections, Fjølkyngi and Ljóð, containing practical exercises for interacting with Gullveig and poetry. Fjølkyngi includes an invocation to Gullveig, a discussion on utiseta as ritual praxis, and a series of sigils (both bind runes and designs more akin to medieval grimoires). Ljóð features poetry and rungaldr, with the poetry effectively illustrating many of the themes of the book in evocative, if frequently bleak, language.

This grim language is something that occurs throughout Gullveigarbók and is a style shared with other anti-Cosmic writings. This is perhaps inevitable given both the Temple of the Black Light and Vexior’s association with metal music, and any chance to use words like black, icy, destruction, wrathful, bestial and of course, anti-cosmic, is gleefully embraced. While many of these properties are, of course, central to this theme, and it would be disingenuous to downplay them, the enthusiastically misanthropic language does come across as, how you say, very metal. In addition to this stylistic quirk, Vexior writes in the first person, frequently giving his personal interpretation rather than employing a distant academic voice, but he quotes primary sources throughout and employs footnotes extensively. The footnotes are styled rather attractively on the side of the page, rather than as actual feet, although in one case, this means that a rather extensive foot, erm, sidenote takes up more space than the main body text as it vertically splits the page in half.

One of the most striking elements of Gullveigarbók are the full page, full-bleed illustrations by Helgorth of Babalon Graphics. Because Helgorth is primarily a designer of covers and logos for metal bands, his work has a quality that is refreshingly different from the post-Spare/Chumbley icon/stele style of artwork so prevalent in occult publications; of which I myself am guilty. Instead, the detailed pen and ink illustrations have a depth and power that captures the essence of Angrboda and certainly acts as a visual underlining of the tone and language that Vexior employs throughout. Particularly impressive is the foldout depiction of Heldrasil that ends the book, in which the three-fold roots of the World Tree are stylised as heads of Níðhöggr, upon whom Gullveig rides in a silhouetted form.

Gullveigarbók comes hardbound in maroon cloth, printed on 242 pages of high quality heavy paper, with red spot colour titles and headings throughout. A deluxe edition of 62 copies was also available. Both editions are now sold out from the publisher Fall of Man.

gullveig_blackice

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Shadow Gods and Black Fire – Andrew Gyll

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Categories: northern trad, rökkr

shadowgodsFirst the disclaimer and a qualifier: I was commissioned to design the cover art for this book and I am credited as the illustrator for the internal imagery too. So, while this could suggest that this may not be the most unbiased of reviews, I choose to use it as a, well, illustration of the virtues of this book. I wasn’t commissioned to make the internal illustrations, but upon receiving the manuscript for review, it was impossible to resist being inspired by the author’s words.

Shadow Gods and Black Fire is a collection of poems by Dorset-based poet, storyteller (and postman), Andrew Gyll, divided into two parts. As Gyll explains, the first half, Shadow Gods and Black Fire¸ is a personal exploration of Norse cosmology and of the Rökkr in particular, while the second part, The Dis, are a series of recollections of a female ancestor of the author.

Gyll’s style of writing is a simple, evocative one that has a remarkable ability, for me at least, to evoke something so familiar and known, as if he’s tapping into my own well of experience. In Magpie Woman, he sees Hela with the colours of the titular bird: She is transition; one black wing, one white, warm flesh, cold bone, describing Her as “life that has withered, the promise of beauty yet to come.” In Helheim, the subject is again Hela, with a meditation on Her as a spirit of compassion, as She who makes whole, because She, as the poem says, “knows the pain of separation and loves you for it.”

At the close of day
A lady waits,
wide are her lands,
fine are her halls.

It was the resonance that Gyll’s poems about Hela had for me that led me to create so many of the accompanying illustration. Like the best devotional literature, Gyll’s poetry provokes a physical as well as emotional response and that he achieves this with such brevity of words adds to the impact of the pieces. There is also a wonderful spirit of pragmatism infusing the work, so rare in the oft-times turgid and earnest realm of devotional and spiritual poetry. In Mordgud, an underworld explorer seems to be on his way into the depths of Hel when, having passed the usual liminal challenges, he encounters the guardian Mordgud and finds he cannot answer her question as to why he is actually venturing into the world of the dead. Pausing and nodding she matter-of-factly ends the poem by telling the explorer “Why don’t you go away and think about it.”

Elsewhere in the Shadow Gods and Black Fire section, Gyll explores both Rökkr and Aesir figures, including Odin, Frigga, Baldur, Surt, Angrboda, Loki and the World Serpent. Some are poetic retellings of contemporary UPG accounts of pivotal moments, such as The Old Queen and The New, which recounts the idea that, as a young girl, Hela replaced an older queen of Hel. Whether one accepts this UPG or not is another matter, but even if you don’t (as I find myself doing), it’s impossible to not be moved by the image of a small limping goddess child slowly moving through the underworld towards Her destiny as queen of the dead:

Every broken step
will I tread
every pain endure

For me, and me alone
the Gates will open

The poems of the second Dis section are much shorter than those in the first, being meditations of small parts of tribal life. As Gyll explains, these seem to be fragments from the life of an ancestor whose people were shamanic, nomadic and herders of reindeer. The voice of these poems is noticeably different from the one that appears in the first half of the book, though once again, Gyll’s sparse use of words (if they are his own) is able to create vivid images in the mind. Perhaps one of the most powerful of these poems is the final one in which the narrator tells of her own death and her encounter with the Hela-like goddess of death:

She knelt and her hair
fell about her shoulders;
I saw that at the end
of each black strand
was a finger’s width
of purest white.

She removed my hand
from its mitten,
held it, simply said –
‘Daughter…’

That is it;
I can say no more.

Published by Asphodel Press. ISBN 978-0-578-00653-6

Magpie Woman

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