One of the Goddesses we will be exploring during this year's Encountering the Dark Goddess workshop comes from the wintery north - that being the Nordic Goddess Hel.
The 13th century Prose Edda described Hel as being half alive (flesh coloured) and half dead (coloured black), with a “gloomy down-cast appearance”, and the bones on one side of her face exposed. With the wave of her hand, Hel is able to cause death, decay and disease; and indeed, when the “Black Death” epidemic of the Middle Ages depopulated villages across Scandinavia, Hel was thought to have been responsible.
The daughter of the trickster god, Loki, and a giantess, Angrboda, the other Norse Gods feared the prophecies of what Hel, along with her siblings, the wolf Fenrir (who could destroy Asgard during Ragnarok), and Jömungandr (the serpent who lay at the bottom of the ocean wrapped around the world with his tail in his mouth) could do. As such, Odin provided Hel with her own realm that was located in Niflheim (Helheim), (he “abode of mist”. Here she held authority over the nine worlds that were unified by the world tree, Yggdrasil. In exchange, Hel gifted Odin two ravens, Huginn (“thought”) and Muninn (“memory”), who acted as the messengers between this world and the next, opening the pathways to death’s own realm.
|Dark Goddess Altar, 2012|
As the ruler of Niflheim, Hel is the judge who determines the fate of each soul that enters the Afterlife. To the “evil dead”, she banishes them to the torturous realms of icy cold (a fate considered by the Nordic people to be worse than a lake of fire). Unlike the later Judeo-Christian perception of “Hell” (taken from the Nordic Goddess’s name), Niflheim was also perceived as a place of shelter and gathering for souls that were about to incarnate.
Hel also watched over the souls how did not choose the path of war and violence and who died peacefully of old age or illness, as well as women and children who died at childbirth. This latter concept has seen Hel become identified as a special guardian of children.
This year's Encountering the Dark Goddess will take place on Saturday, 4 May 2013. Registrations are now open. There are limited positions available.