Northern Tradition Paganism

Womb and Tomb

Frigga sent me to Hela.
I wouldn’t have thought that Frigga was on speaking terms with the Goddess of Death, Loki’s cold daughter, the Lady of Helheim. After all, this is the same Goddess that would not release my Lady’s Shining Son, Baldr.
But my Lady is wise and knows that Hela is far seeing and a teacher that will not allow any student to wiggle out of a lesson.

I went to Fensalir for guidance about my lessons in divination. As I approached Her throne at the top of the steps, I saw Frigga standing and in Her seat sat a skeleton in a white dress decked out in crystals. The skull was tilted back and the mouth open wide. Even though the skull was eyeless, it felt like the skull was watching me, waiting to see my reaction.
I was confused and tried not to look at it. The skeleton looked grotesque in its shimmering white dress. I tried to remove myself from its unending sight but it followed me. I could not leave its presence. Frigga watched as well as I squirmed and spoke to Her even as I was unable to look away from the skull.
I thought I would go to Vor, another great Seeress and handmaiden to our Lady. It seemed like the best path for an earthly handmaiden to Frigga who wanted to become a better diviner, but I am not wise like the Gods and Frigga has her own plans for me.

She sent me down a dark road.

Fires burned around me but they were low, dying embers of funeral pyres creating shadows that I dared not peer into too closely. I felt a presence there, buring these embers to guide my way – a presence that was too quiet for me to guess at until He showed Himself to me much later, but that is another vision, another tale.
This was not Helheim, I understood almost intuitively. I was on a boarder road that would bring me to one of Hela’s gates. I followed the lit path and entered a cavern. An unseen presence held me back. Ahead I could see a low fire with a cauldron hanging over it. Two chairs were there with a table between them.
A man was seated to the left, golden haired and pointy-faced. He wore his hair in a long bob and had a black and red cape. He seemed angry. He was bargaining with whoever sat in the other chair. Finally, not getting anywhere, he stormed off. He came towards me, not seeing me in his fury, and passed by on to a different road.
The presence that held me back released me. I moved forward slowly. I guessed at what would be in that chair and I wasn’t in a hurry to face it.
The skeleton from before waited for me, now in black with only half Her face showing. I didn’t sit across from Hela but I also didn’t fidget or squirm any longer. I had always known I’d end up here.

My Experience with Death

I have known about my own mortality almost my whole life. It has been said that childhood ends the moment you know you will die. I’m not sure what caused me to understand that one day I will die at the age of six, but I remember distinctly lying in bed feeling the weight of that knowledge on my chest.
I developed thanatophobia, fear of death, early on and I never spoke to anyone in my life about it until I met my husband. I might not have told him but I was sitting up in bed, feeling an anxiety attack creep over me, and he, jolted by my eradic breathing and trembling, needed to know what was wrong.
I read once that fear of death is a lot like randomly remembering you are being chased by a lion. It is terrifying, comes on at random times, and there is no cure for it according to psychologists. Fear of death can’t be handled like other phobias. No doctor is going to suggest you confront this fear because you could die in that confrontation. There is no avoiding it because we all will indeed face death one day.
I struggled with this fear nearly 2 decades. Then, I was pregnant.

It was my second pregnancy and I was confronted with mortality in the way that all mothers are. I’d had a miscarriage and I knew too well I could lose this baby as well. I also knew that maternal mortality rate in the US was higher than it should be. I could die having my baby.
I planned my pregnancy and birth down to the very music I would be listening to as I labored in water at the local birthing center. My fear of death was triggered as I passed my due date, had no signs of impending birth despite my continuous contractions, and my midwives said I needed to go to the hospital.
In short, I needed a cesarean. I could vividly picture every article I’d read the whole pregnancy that told stories of women who died, lost their babies, lost their uterus, and other tales of terror. I knew I was going to die and I was shaking so hard I had to grit my teeth to keep them from chattering.

My family and the nurses all did their best to calm me. I could barely hear them. My world was cold and all I could hear was a strange white noise coming from within me. I turned inward as they prepped me for operation and I spoke into the void that I felt closing around me even in the bright lights over the operating table. “Anything. Take anything. Just let my baby live. Take me. Take it all. Just let him live. Let him live. Live.”
My son was born on October 9th at 1:15pm. He was beautiful and real and alive. “Real and alive,” I kept thinking over and over as I wept at the very sight of him. The doctors worked on me while my husband held our son to my breast to have his first meal. My anesthesiologist mentioned my blood pressure dropping and I was taken to post-op.
I was alone and I felt the void still there. As I tried to feel my feet and ignore the beeping all around me, I thought about death. For the first time in my whole life, I wasn’t afraid anymore. I smiled and wondered, knowing otherwise, if it was the drugs.

Standing Before Hela

I stood before Hela in her skeletal form and understood that I was always going to come here just as I was always going to be a mother. I understood why we were in a catacomb, a tomb deep in the earth with a hearth fire burning. I understood in a way all mothers understand, deep down, primally.
I listened as Hela told me I was sent to her because my journey on the path of divination demands that I see both into the future and into the past. The past is where the dead rule, where Hela has knowledge. The future is a spiraling of wyrd that ends in death, Hela’s hand. I can see this now because I have been there, seeing the future held before me in the presence of a crying newborn, torn from my body and covered in my blood.
There isn’t much difference between birth and death. Giving life and midwifing death often come with the same hand. They are one, the womb and the tomb.