Saturday, December 13, 2014

Reposts for Christmas #3

In Hel's Hall

It was white-ice morning in Hel's Hall
in the ninth of the Nine Worlds, when
Odin donned the Hel-shoes, cast the runes
and rode to ask his questions of 
the dead. 

Because he was a god, twisted she rose 
from her ashen bed
and by force began to speak  
of what she knew:

So I found, said her blackened lips,
that cold is a serpent that holds, pushing its
ribbon-chest deep into mountain,
slow-cracking the heads of spirits within
for gold to brighten its rippling scales.
Will you hear more?

So I saw, moved her fleshless jaw,
that cold will grow wide and thicken,
dead weight in grey-white armor,
dead mouth kissing every shoulder, 
that the tree it blasts and circles
will shake down a harvest of lives
to grind out all you love.

So I found, rattled her dustdry throat,
that cold will make red daggers, hanging
scarlet borrowed blood to temper
oblivion's poppy snowflakes,
to pierce the heart of hearts
till red and white alike
vanish from sight.

So I saw, whispered the husk of Hel,
that snow will cover fire, 
that the white wolf no sword can kill
will eat desire, that you
are a basket of bones made for wildflowers
withering in a wind of empty hours.
Will you hear more?

Then the One-Eyed shucked his Hel-shoes
jumped back in Sleipnir's saddle,
and fled the Ninth World, 
where words torn from the dead
had frozen on his tongue.

~January 2013
 revisions, December 2014

originally  posted for   real toads

Kerry's Wednesday Challenge: Worldbuilding
Kerry O'Connor has asked us to write around the subject of alternative worlds. Here I've reached into the the realm of Norse myth, and as usual, taken a few liberties with the tales of the Old Gods.

Process notes: In Norse mythology, Hel was the realm of those dead who had not died in battle, and also the name of the female figure who ruled it. It was where Odin the One-eyed, first of the Aesir and god of poetry, war, death, wisdom and wandering, journeyed to raise a dead Seeress to tell him of the future. She prophesies the events of Ragnarök,* the twilight, or perhaps re-making, of the gods, where the children of the antagonistic god of disorder and mischief, Loki, the Midgard Serpent and Fenrir the Wolf, will battle the gods, and the World Tree will 'shake and groan.' 

Hel-shoes (helskór) were put on the Norse dead to walk the road to the Otherworld.
Sleipnir is Odin's magical eight-legged horse.

* I probably ought to add that following the events of Ragnarök, the  völva also prophesies that a beautiful new world will emerge, where men and gods live in peace and plenty. Some believe that this a post-Christian introduction, but regardless, it satisfies the happily ever after need we humans have.


  1. Another little foray into the past, and the mysteries of the dead, to keep Brendan company on the long road to and through Hel's Hall.

  2. Thanks H, such a treat ... So I downloaded the Prose Edda yesterday to read up on Hermodr's attempt to rescue Baldr from Hel. The images so ripe in this poem lift from that deep cauldron; the Poetic Edda is said to be obscure for modern eyes, but the poet can work its magic with a peculiar dark certainty of mind. (So spot on is "cold is a serpent that holds, pushing its / ribbon-chest deep into mountain, / slow-cracking the heads of spirits within / for gold to brighten its rippling scales.") If one has beheld with the eyes of the snow-man, then perhaps one can also converse with Hel in the tongue of the dead. We need that cold, but it is dreadful. The icy river Styx at the border of the Greek underworld is said to be a mother of Reason (Nous); clarity of thought must be cold, far from the happy south of the heart -- at least, Apollo's distance would suggest that. (He was better at rape than marriage). It's a dastardly contract, going down that far into the realm of the lost. The ancient energies have a hateful, dark depth to them. And what can the dead tell us that we can use back up here? Are they words too fraught with ice to have use with the living? Yet Styx is also a mother of Eros; one of Psyche's labors in her efforts to woo her wounded husband back is to fill a flask from a river that runs from Styx to the highest crag. We go down, we go up; the task is to get the dead to weep for the living Baldr and the living to weep for the dead Baldr. Maybe these are truths too odious and hateful to the life-clinging ear that only wants some confirmation that the way we think things are are truly that way. And be done with the dead. No one hangs around down there for long--three days and nights, max. Christmas is three days from the Winter Solstice. Anyhoo, a delightful decantation here, increased so much by some digging into Nordic dirt from this side of the worlds. Thanks for a tale for the Yule log. All members of Congress should be shod with such shoes. (If interested, see the post today at the Well about the Hyperborean sources of culture.)

    1. I do find the Eddas very intense/condensed stuff--I'm psyched that you are perusing them. There is indeed something evil-feeling in that depth, a terror akin to madness, and not the madness that inspires but the one which consumes--yet there also seems to be something beyond that, as if that mask is just another one of those god-spawned tricks they are so fond of springing on us. But as we know, no one comes back and has anything useful to say about that place, or about anything else, with the possible exception of Oran--(all the near-death, or clinically-dead-and- revived stories one hears seem to be nothing more than dreams interpreting physical reactions.) Be done witrh the dead indeed--but not until they are done with us, I'm afraid. Thanks for reading, and the conversation, B. as always.

    2. Yes, a terror akin to madness, consuming, freezing, final -- Maybe it's because the Eddas were sung in the such a far north that the mad bad limit was ever-present. Folks in cold climes have to wrestle a lot harder with the elements to survive; the Norse dragon boats were cruel engines of victory. Blood eagles carved into the backs of victims an all that; no wonder the Eddas are populated with such uggs, giants and wyrms and witches and wolves, oh my.

      Hillman points out in "Dream and Underworld" that Styx means "hate," is the limit by which the Gods know themselves (they swear by its waters), the boundary beyond which no living thing can return. Her sons Force and Reason (snow-man!) and Victory are exempla all of the way the ego asserts itself and must conquer all ... love is a latter addlement (and the old ego HATES tenderness). Who'd want to go to Hel who isn't already forced to by dying? And yet, I suspect Hel's work is our work in reverse, the shadowy truth inside our ego's berserking. Perhaps what Jung was getting at about eating's one shadow is really letting the ego go to Hel. But I suspect the dead aren't done with us, yet. Hate still abounds on this earth -- wherever wills war -- it's deep in abused childhoods and chills with the lost Titans who mutter and brood and plot in our emotional basements. Very important to write of it, difficult though it may be!

  3. Hi Hedge, I remember this poem and am as admiring of it as ever. It is very chilling--sorry--but all too true that a hell of cold is perhaps the farther circle or closest or however that is supposed to work. Great language here--distilled and yet vivid--so many great phrases==the ribbon chest kind of stands out for me, and her rising from her bed, and the white wolf, and the ice over the fire==the terror of cold is that it seems that it could last forever (no burning out.) Anyway, another world definitely, and one I've come back too (thank Goodness.) I couldn't take more time away from home and so I've come back to work from here a couple of days. Anyway, thanks, for the chance to revisit this. K.

    1. Thanks, k. Glad you still like it. Yes, you are in the midst of ice-white mornings up there, I'm sure. We OTOH had huge ominous thunderheads roll through today, a brief tornado to the south of us,60's and just bizarre weather all around. Glad you are back in your country retreat. The country is very addictive, I find.

  4. This is the perfect post for this time of year's turning, especially up North, where Earth goes through the death-like dormancy of winter.

    Happy Yuletide!

  5. if ragnarok was my destiny, i dont think i would want to know...just let it happen as they will...the future will be here soon enough in my opinion....the world will pass on soon enough as real snow to speak of here yet...maybe this weekend...the i saw, i found stanza starts alternating struck a chord with me...

  6. I read that some scientists speculate that memories can be passed down in DNA. Maybe it's the memory of that cold grip, so much closer to our skin than today's cradle to grave swaddle of central heating, down comforters, and tech-wear, that you claw up and exhibit here. Made my hair stand on end, actually - always a sure sign, to me, that you have tapped into the fount. ~


"We make out of the quarrel with others, rhetoric, out of the quarrel with ourselves, poetry." ~William Butler Yeats

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