aesir, God, goddess, goddess of death, Heathen, Hel, helheim, jotun, Pagan, polytheism
Right, so with the new email, I actually got some emails I could find from readers. (Damn you, moveon.org and your refusal to leave me alone!!!) Some of these are just questions for me, but I got one from a person listed as N H and they had a few questions.
Thought you might find this interesting.
Would be interested in your thoughts.
“Hela is not a) a Goddes of Death in Norse-German mythology b) a Goddes at all because she had a jotuns genealogy and noticed in sourсes always as giantess c) and there are no any institutionalized cults and folklore of Hel as Goddes of Death. I see no reason to glorify and use she as a spiritual and divine figure in theory and practice.”
And since that’s what the blog is here for, that’s what I’m going to do.
So, let’s start with question one:
Hela is not a Goddess of Death in Norse-German mythology.
Hela is the Ruler of the Realm of Helheim. She is it’s queen and sole proprietor. Helheim is the realm to which the dead that are not chosen by Odin or Freya go. So when we say that Hel is the Goddess of Death, it is because she is the ruler of Helheim and the dead that reside there. We refer to her as a Goddess because that is what she is (more on that later).
Hela is not a Goddess at all because she has Jotun genealogy and noted in sources always as a giantess.
I don’t happen to have all the sources handy to check if this statement is true at the moment.
Now, it is true that Hela was born of Jotuns. Her mother flatly is a Jotun. The Goddess part however comes two fold. Lineage and Existence.
Hela’s father Loki, is the “Blood Brother” of Odin. Now, most of us today have a very, very limited understanding of what blood brothers are, but the concept is not all together foreign. Even just a few generations ago we had “blood brothers” who would perform a ritual and mix their blood. From that point on, as far as they were concerned, they were “Brothers in blood” and of the same family. In sharing this Oath, Loki was joined with Odin’s people and, though born a Jotun, is an Aesir by Blood Oath. A similar thing happened with Skadi, though hers was by Marriage.
So while “Genetically” Hela is a Jotun, culturally she is part Aesir by birth. We must also remember that Odin, Vili, and Ve, the founders of the Aesir as a people were born of a Jotun mother. As was Thor, and many others of the Aesir.
A key thing to remember when dealing with this is the phrase “blood is thicker than water.” Most of us today tend to think that means the blood of family is thicker than…well, water. The original version of the expression fully stated was “The blood of the Oath is thicker than the water of the Womb.” Meaning, the people you swore your oaths too had a stronger bond with you than your own family.
That deals with Lineage, but I also mention “existence.”
Our understanding of Gods is…not what it should be. Most of it was tainted through the lenses of Monotheism. Even the term God, is not what we think it is, at least it wasn’t originally. The word “God” comes from the Norse and Germanic people and it referred to the Aesir and the Vanir.
But what set “Gods” apart from say, Jotuns or Alfs. Going through the lore, there’s a number of beings of many races who rival the Gods in power. Some of whom are outright stronger, both in physical and metaphysical terms. So what makes a God so special?
For this one I actually have to reach out past our People and look at Gods as a whole (or at least, those which are equivalent to Gods. For example, Gods being from the Germanic would refer to beings of a specific type. A related group of beings who tend to work on the same principle would be the Kami of Japan, or any other group that usually gets refereed to as a God in Germanic languages. Of which there is a group for every people out there, and who are also often equaled in power by other groups those people know about).
My studies in this matter have led me to conclude that it is not just Power which Make a God, well, a God. It’s the way that power functions. That they not only command a certain power or powers, but that they themselves are a Source for that power. By their very existence, they are the Power of which they are a God or Goddess of.
Take Odin, for instance. He is the God of Wisdom. Now, there’s lots of Gods and other being out there who are Wise. Some of them are even Wiser than Odin (and he did his level best to study them and gain their wisdom). So what makes Odin’s wisdom different, and how is that he is a God of Wisdom. For that matter, why are the Aesir and the Vanir called Gods, but have their own “racial” names for their people. Because being an Aesir, or a Vanir, doesn’t automatically mean you are a God. A God is something you can become, by tying yourself to a force or forces and embodying them as both source and director. This is why Jotuns like Loki, Skadi, and Hel are also Gods in their own right. Because they gained mastery and connection with things so profoundly that they became Gods, when they were not born that way.
In Hel’s case, this is because she tied herself to the powers of Death and Sickness, after being given rule over the Realm of Helheim by Odin. Born of the Jotuns and Aesir, judged worthy by Fate, and granted the knowledge to become a Goddess by Odin.
and there are no any institutionalized cults and folklore of Hel as Goddes of Death. I see no reason to glorify and use she as a spiritual and divine figure in theory and practice.
Right, for this one I’m a bit thoughtful. It was set up as a singular question, but the second sentence seems more like a justification to not worship, seperate from the first one. I’m going to break it into two parts.
There are no recorded institutionalized cults and folklore as Hel as Goddess of Death.
Now, to this first one I will agree. There are no recorded cults.
Of course, there are no recorded Cults of Loki, but we do know he was considered a god, the brother of odin, and revered as someone who helped the common man, like Thor did. For that matter, there’s not a lot of recorded Cults for most of the Aesir and the Vanir who are acknowledged as Gods and Goddesses. How much of the Cults were “institutionalized” vs “private practice” is something that I believe scholars and Heathens alike debate to this day. And probably will even after we get time machines and can actually go back to find out.
Here’s the thing, we know the Norse were a very, very honor based society. Most of what we have recorded from them comes from the Viking age, give or take a bit. A time when the Norse were pretty much at war with the entire known world (for them), beset on all sides by Christians seeking to erase their Gods and religion. So, who were the big Gods they prayed to? Odin, Thor, Freya, and Freyr. Gods and Goddesses of battle, glory, manliness, etc.
Do you really think you’re going to find much worship of a Goddess of the Dishonored Dead? Of course not. Despite the fact that anyone who did not die in battle, and quite a few who did, would end up in Helheim…that’s not what they were going to focus on. They were going to pump themselves up as much as they could, just like every nation of people who is going to war does (or did, anyways).
As for there being no folklore of Hel as the Goddess of Death…it honestly sounds like N H just…completely forgot the tale of Baldr’s death. Where Baldr dies, Odin sends a messenger to Hel as the Goddess of Death, Keeper of the Dead, and asks for his son back…only to be rebuffed unless all things cry for Balder.
Hel is a being which not even Odin can command. She is the Ruler of the Dead. Born of an Aesir father. Now, are there translations out there which might not call her the Goddess of Death? Sure. Of course, I’ve read some that do call her that. Regardless of what is written down though…she meets all the requirements of that Title.
I see no reason to glorify and use she as a spiritual and divine figure in theory and practice.
Well, I’m not going to hold a sword to your neck and force you to say otherwise.
That being said…you’re probably ending up in Helheim. I mean, unless you get beaten to death by the Antifa for being a Nazi, and manage to put in a good show and take enough of them with you to earn your way into Odin or Freya’s halls. Or you die at sea and get taken by Ran. But, odds are, Helheim it is.
And you don’t see a reason to glorify the ruler of the realm you will be going to?
Look, I hate to sound like the bloody Christians here, but honestly. If you’re going to spend the rest of your existence in a place under someone’s rule…it really doesn’t hurt to show them some respect. I mean, as far as “theory” goes…she’s the Daughter of an Aesir (by blood oath), she’s ruler over the lands of the dead, she sends the dishonorable to be devoured by a giant dragon that eats the roots of Yggdrasil, and she protects your soul from who knows how many nasty things in the larger universe that could have any number of uses for your spirit/soul.
I mean, theoretically, if you knew you were going to end up in England, would you spend your time going around and insisting that “The Queen isn’t really a Queen!”
Now, everyone is completely free to believe what they want, and to do what they want. But…Hela and Helheim are part of the package when you sign up for Heathenism. And given that even though we do not have a lot of records, it is openly recorded that Odin respects Hela’s power…I don’t think it’s unreasonable to do these same and honor her both for what she is and for what she does.
In some ways I do understand people’s…hesitation to worship Hela. Death is a scary thing that we’re largely removed from. Most Heathens like to focus on the Glory and Honor and dream of death in battle….not the fact that they’re going to likely end up dying hooked up to a bunch of machines and pumped full of unpleasant potions in a House of Eir as Eir’s Children do their level best to keep them alive with all manner of pointy objects. Helplessly shitting themselves, not even aware of what is going on around them.
Honestly, I can’t blame them.
But the hard fact is…you’re going to die. And when you die, you’re probably going to Helheim. And you can rage at that fact, and you can try and deny her divinity all you like, but at the end of the day…that’s where you’re going, and that’s where She’ll be…and her power over you is going to be absolutely unquestionable. And no amount of screaming #NotMyGoddess is going to change that.
The only thing that will change that is…signing up for a different religion with a different set of Gods, and hoping that they’re as nice as the Heathen ones. And if “divine origin” is that important to you..I can recommend the Greeks. There is absolutely no question that Hades is of the same blood as Zeus. Of course…the “Retirement” plan might not be to your liking, but hey, you got a proper God over there. Or you could go with the Christians, though their Hell is not nearly as pleasant as our Hel. But hey, do what makes you happy.
This is one of the things that I continue to struggle with as a Pagan and as a Heathen. The sheer amount of Christian baggage people continue to carry around without realizing it is staggering. When I “converted” to being Pagan I spent about a full year meditating on every preconceived notion I could think of, every moral precept I had, in the context of NOT Christianity. Did it make sense? Was it tied to Christianity exclusively? Did it benefit me and my family? If not, it went out the door. If more people did that rather than just declaring a new faith without looking at their worldview and values it would be better for us all.
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In my experience, I have come across quite a few Heathens who claim that Hel isn’t a goddess and Loki isn’t a god due to their Jotun lineage. It is like they have forgotten that Odin himself was born of two Jotuns… the entire Aesir line is Jotun. What separates the Aesir and the Jotun aren’t the race but the faction they belong to. Odin and his brothers hated what Ymir was doing, so they formed a war band and killed him. To be fair, there’s a lot of unknowns in that myth, so I can understand how some people can overlook the fact that Odin himself was born from Jotuns.
Moving past that, however, the term “god” does not actually come from Norse. I explored the etymology of the term a while back, which you can read in my post here: https://heathenwoman.wordpress.com/2015/12/15/the-etymology-of-the-word-god/ if you are so inclined. I will agree, however, that people no longer seem to understand what ‘god’ means when it is used as a descriptor rather than as a reference to the Abrahamic god.
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good point about Loki as blood bringer, but more to the point, what differentiates the Aesir from the Jotnar genetically? At what moment in the creation story did the mass of Beings that crawled out from Ymir and the brine stop being Jotun and become As? There’ s no clear answer to that in the surviving stories, unless it’s the moment Odin and His brothers decided to slaughter Ymir. Genetically, if such things apply to Gods, They’re all the same. A God is a God is a God.
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Jön Upsal's Gardener said:
I’ve grown increasingly uncomfortable with the use of the word “god” as a generic term, precisely because of the uncertain definition you mention above. I tend to use ás or æsir, as the specific term.
It’s also worth noting that none of that dancing about with blood-brotherhood is needed when it comes to Loki’s place. Snorri clearly refers to him as a member of the æsir in Gylfaginning 20; “…when Odin himself spake with him of the Æsir whom men call Loki.”
And also in chapter 33: “Also numbered among the Æsir is he whom some call the mischief-monger of the Æsir, and the first father of falsehoods, and blemish of all gods and men: he is named Loki or Loptr, son of Fárbauti the giant; his mother was Laufey or Nál; his brothers are Býleistr and Helblindi.”
I’ve got a lot to say about lineage and how it pertains to the gods and such (as you might imagine), but it’s a bit lengthy for a comment. Maybe I’ll do a post on the subject sometime soon.
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Lucius Svartwulf Helsen said:
I look forwards to such a post.
Jön Upsal's Gardener said:
Ask and ye shall receive: http://jonupsalsgarden.blogspot.com/2017/02/gods-and-giants-sir-ok-jotnar.html
I’d like to see that post myself. If you have any other posts somewhere, I’d also like to see them. 🙂
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