Heathens of Yorkshire
-by Saz Cockayne, April 2018
Where do I start? Firstly I think I should explain why I had to write about Hel.
I became a Heathen a couple of years ago now, and after reading about the gods/goddesses I felt a connection with Hel the most. I have worked as a care assistant in several nursing homes for the last 12 years, and have always been around death. I was never scared or uneasy sitting with someone as they took their last breath in this world. I felt at peace. I was then the nominated to be the person who would have this honour in each home I worked at. I was often misunderstood by doing so. I have always been able to see and communicate with those who have passed over to another plain. I feel this is why I connect with Hel so much.
Hel is the ruler of Niflheim, the place where those who have not died in battle go. The place for those who have died naturally, through illness, accidental or by their own doing. Hel is the daughter of Loki and the Giantess Angrboda, her brothers are Fenrir the wolf and Jormungand[ the world serpent. Hel is often described in her appearance as being half human and half almost zombie like. Depictions of Hel usually show her as having half a human face and half a face where the skull shows through the flesh. I often think Hel is misunderstood. In Greek Mythology Hades is portrayed as a villain, someone to not be spoken about and I think that this opinion has carried through to other mythologies. An example of Hels compassion comes from the tale of Baldurs death. When Baldur was sent to Hel by some trickery from Loki, Hermod rode into Niflheim on Sleepnir to request Hel to release him, Hel did not say no, she told him that it would be so if everyone in the nine realms mourns for him, then he is to be released. I feel a great compassion there, Hel could have refused point blank to entertain the idea, but she did not. It was Loki again that stopped Baldur from being released. Safe to say that Hel is not her fathers daughter. So in Niflheim Baldur remained until Ragnarok.
It is written in the Poetic Edda that travellers to Helheim must pass by her guardian hound Garmr. The blood stained guardian of the gate. In the Prose Edda, Snorri Sturluson 13th Century there is a little more about Hel; High one of the Scholars notes that Odin threw Hel into Niflheim with authority over the nine realms to "administer board and lodging to those sent to her, and that is those who die of sickness or old age." High details that in this realm Hel has "great Mansions" with extremely high walls and immense gates, a hall called Éljúðnir, a dish called "Hunger," a knife called "Famine," the servant Ganglati (Old Norse "lazy walker"), the serving-maid Ganglöt (also "lazy walker"), the entrance threshold "Stumbling-block," the bed "Sick-bed," and the curtains "Gleaming-bale." High describes Hel as "half black and half flesh-coloured," adding that this makes her easily recognizable, and furthermore that Hel is "rather downcast and fierce-looking
Hel to me represents a reminder of the balance in everyday life. Everything begins and everything has an end. The rune associated with Hel is Hagalaz, often referred to as the “chaos” rune, a rune of disorganisation and disarray. From reading the runes, I always feel like this is more of a balance, what has become complete to start a new chapter. I often feel that we as humans in Midgard often take for granted that there is a balance, a never ending cycle. I think that Hel is often forgotten as death is not a subject many are comfortable addressing.
There is not much written about Hel because there is not much known about her. So I apologise that this is a short Deity of the Week, I will however always be researching Hel and am always happy to discuss Hel with others. The images attached to this post are from my own collection of Hel, some have been gifts and some I have purchased. My first Hel figure was a gift from the friend who introduced me to Heathenry and it is my most treasured Hel figure. I do hope you all have enjoyed reading this.