At my Waldorf school, World Mythology played a significant role in the curriculum, though it was Norse Mythology that had a lasting impact on me. Hel and her brother Fenrir were the characters that enthralled me most of all. But I suppose that won’t come as a surprise!
I haven’t spent much time thinking about Hel in recent years – my loss – but during the past few days, I’ve been delighting in getting to know her again, as well as uncovering a wealth of enlightening videos, writings and art devoted to her.
One of my favourite findings was Neil Gaiman’s book Norse Mythology, in which he writes entrancingly about the keeper of the dead:
“What do they call you, girl?” asked the All-father.
“They call me Hel,” she said, “if it pleases you, All-father.”
“You are a polite child,” said Odin. “I’ll give you that.”
Hel said nothing, only looked at him with her single green eye, sharp as an ice chip, and her pallid eye, dull and spoiled and dead, and he saw no fear in her.
“Are you alive?” he asked the girl. “Or are you a corpse?”
“I am only myself, Hel, daughter of Angrboda and of Loki,” she said.Norse Mythology, Neil Gaiman
‘I am only myself, Hel…’ There’s so much behind these five words. Through reading them, I’ve re-discovered courage I was quite convinced I’d lost.
Taking a wild leap away from the courage Hel has installed in me, I learned that, in 2017, The Icelandic Naming Committee ruled that parents were not allowed to name their child Hel. They did so ‘on the grounds that the name would cause the child significant distress and trouble as it grows up.’
I watched several videos about Hel, including this hugely enjoyable and insightful one from Denton’s Tales Of The Viking Age. It’s quite lengthy, but I’m glad I watched it all because he ended the video with a most intriguing tale.
A friend of Denton’s was extremely ill and in hospital. When being taken into surgery, a woman appeared in front of him. He recognized her immediately – it was Hel. She smiled at him and told him not to worry. She said he was going to live and she would change him. Hel then thrust her hand into his chest and pulled out his heart. She did something with it, then put it back. She told him that his life would be very different. Then she vanished. When Denton’s friend woke up, he could see and talk to dead people. He went on to study Shamanism and is now a practicing Shaman.
Another excellent watch was by the brilliant Freyia Norling. One of Freyia’s lines about Hel will stay with me always – ‘What I once have, I will never give back.’ In many respects, Hel was seen as more powerful than Odin himself, predominantly because nobody could come back from her domain unless she gave permission. Even the All-father bowed his head to Hel when he was in her realm.
I hope you enjoy the art I’ve collected. I’m not on Instagram at the moment, so wasn’t able to mine the treasures that undoubtedly rest there, but I gathered what I could from other sources.