Saturday, April 19, 2014

Haelu and Seidr: Manipulation

The last time I wrote about Haelu within the context of Seidr, I wrote about the importance of haelu for the practitioner, and of staying hael. However, in a group conversation a couple of days ago, I realised that I had been neglectful in my exploration of the topic at that point, that I had missed out yet another fundamental way that haelu might be said to underpin the practice of Seidr.

Although there is a lot of debate as to what Seidr actually is in modern circles, chapter seven of the Ynglinga saga is quite clear on what it was perhaps considered to be:

By means of this he could know beforehand
the predestined fate of men, or their not yet completed lot; and
also bring on the death, ill-luck, or bad health of people, and
take the strength or wit from one person and give it to another.

It is on this manipulation of 'luck' and 'health' that I'm going to focus in this blog post. As previously discussed,'Haelu' is a word that can be translated as being both 'luck' and 'health', 'wholeness' and 'holiness', and a hero was no hero unless he was hael. There was no constant with haelu, as with physical health, it was something that could wax and wane in a person, something that could be worked for, fought for, gained, lost, and frittered away.

And where there are no constants, there can always be manipulation.

What if I told you, that rather than picturing haelu as being an either/or thing, that it would be better visualised, again, as with physical health, as a continuum of sorts?

Something a little like this, perhaps?

Now what if each person could be visualised as landing somewhere on that continuum, you know, depending on how hael or unhael they are? If you could somehow assess yourself in terms of haelu, where do you think you would stand on that continuum?

When viewed in this way, would it not be reasonable to consider those that are further towards the 'unhael' side of the continuum to be easier to curse and harder to heal, and those that are further towards the 'hael' side to be easier to heal and harder to curse?

The way I see it, there are two main implications for modern Seidr practitioners if we are to accept this paradigm:

1. That yet again, the importance of Seidr practitioners working towards being, and staying hael is is further emphasised.

2. That if haelu can be manipulated, either positively (healing) or negatively(cursing), we could potentially learn something about the mechanics, in other words the *how* of that positive manipulation using surviving magico-medical texts (such as the Lacnunga). Furthermore, in using those texts (after filtering out the obviously foreign influences), not only can we discern methods for protection, healing, purification etc., but we could also potentially discern something of the worldview from which they were born, and (if so inclined) extrapolate the means of negative manipulation.

Thursday, April 10, 2014


Hey there blog, it's been a while.

And a whole lot of change in the house of Birka.

You see,I became a mother about two and a half weeks ago in a process that was dramatic and drawn out (when is childbirth *not* dramatic though?). Pregnancy wasn't easy for me, and between the hypermobility in my joints that almost saw me crippled and out of work by week twenty, the bout of scarily high blood pressure at the end, and the pelvis that wasn't very conducive to birth, my body seems particularly unsuited for carrying and having babies.

Which is ironic seeing how getting pregnant took over four years of trying in the first place, and I'd wanted an all natural childbirth with no interventions, only to end up with the birth with ALL the interventions.

As I've said before, it's a good job I've got a sense of humour, and really, when I think about what I'd hoped for vs what actually happened, moreover, what *had* to happen for the sake of both of us, I do laugh some.

Some people talk about natural childbirth as being almost a transcendental experience, the pain putting them in an altered state of consciousness. A friend told me that I would see the disir during childbirth.

Through my three days of induced labour, I don't believe I saw anything or experienced anything as transcendental as that, but on the final day, things seem to shift on a dime.

I'd spent all night in some approximation of the dreaded back labour, mostly flopped over a yoga ball because it was the only position that didn't hurt as much as the others. Tensing up through another contraction, a nurse came in that we hadn't met yet - nothing new - but her demeanour was so different. Instead of waiting for the contraction to be over like the other nurses did before talking to me, she began to talk me through it, in terms of energy manipulation, and I followed. This had been my third night of no sleep and being in pain, and day number three was about to start with no progress since my admission on the first night. The contractions, while strong, were sporadic - my body was failing me and any dreams of a natural birth were disappearing faster than free beer on a Saturday night in Manchester.

It's an odd feeling to have your body fail you. It's hard not to feel disappointed or take it to heart, as though you somehow could have avoided this had you only done x,y, and z back when you were 21 and knocking back the beers as though the future didn't exist.

But it's good that we humans are inventive, that some of us carry the spark of inspiration, because there was a time when that kind of body failure would have spelled death for my child and I.

Strangely the nurse took the lead over the midwife (even though the midwife outranked the nurse) and laid out the plan for the day, if I agreed, they were going to get me an epidural to get me some rest, and push the induction hard while I rested. After nights and days of no sleep and pretty much nothing but pain, I agreed.

First point, don't believe anything about epidurals just feeling like bee stings, you don't feel bee stings scraping along your spine bones, and trying to hold still while something is going into your spine area while still dealing with a back labour contraction and the shakes is really not fun. Really. Once it's in though, the relief is almost instant, you feel your body parts, can still move them even, but you can't feel any pain - kind of like when you're at the dentist and have your mouth numbed for work.

At this point, floating in and out of consciousness ( I really was exhausted), it was as though the nurse, midwife, and a tech (who was from my country) came to embody aspects of goddesses, of Matronae, or at times, even Frija. It's entirely possible that I was a little delirious, but regardless of what the day would bring, I felt safe, like everything would eventually be ok. Hope restored.

At around four in the afternoon though, it became clear that nothing was working for moving this baby, she seemed to be getting distressed, moreover she wasn't responding to stimulation, and so I told them to cut me open.

The surgical team were scrambled pretty quickly, and I found out that oddly, the Dr that would be doing my section, a Dr whose name means 'new world', spent a chunk of her childhood living in Skemersdale (a town bearing an old Norse name 16 miles from where I grew up in England).

I've had some really weird experiences before in life, I've done some pretty crazy things, but to this day, laying on an operating table, trying to keep still because the shaking had gotten so intense it felt like my bones would crack, with my insides out, while an ex-resident of Skemersdale that was named for the land I'd come to live in sliced through whatever she needed to to get to our baby, is probably the most surreal to date.

As it turned out, my pubic bone was too flat for our baby to get past, they hadn't even managed to get the catheter in properly, as it had caught on that bone leaving a partially full bladder that had to be deflated in surgery in order to get the baby out. My dream of natural birth would only ever be that - a dream.

And perhaps all of this sounds like it was terrible - a far cry from that desired birth in which I would have used my womanly powers of birthingness to bring our little one into the world - but it really wasn't. It was actually the most amazing day of my life, and I'll never forget the sight of them lifting my little love over the curtain, or my husband's overjoyed cries that it was a girl, or the surgical staff cooing over how pretty she was even covered in blood and screaming, with her bruised nose from where the contractions had bashed her against my pubic bone. I'll never forget the way she tried to latch onto my cheek, or how I cried in disbelief and wonder at my daughter even as I struggled to breathe, and the relief that she was ok, that we'd made the right decision. I've seen some incredible things in life, but not one of those sights even comes close to the sight of that little girl for the first time.

The next morning, that tech from my country brought me breakfast, with a cup of tea that she'd made using her tea stash, and as I sat drinking my very British tea brought from home by another ex-pat, and eating toast with the very American concord grape jam on it, I couldn't help but be struck by the old world/new world themes at play here.

Two and a half weeks on, sitting here in my living room, with my baby, our hard-gotten child of two worlds, (finally) napping in the bassinet beside me, I can't help but feel amused by it all.

It's good to have a sense of humour.