Hel, Hailstones, and Long Walks in the Woods

I’ve been thinking a lot about Hel recently, moreso than usual.  Every time I sit down to meditate, or find my mind wandering while watching television, (Vikings is good and yet still somehow 20% more garbage than I remembered it,) or slip into a trance from the gentle monotony of washing large quantities of dishes by hand, it’s Hel that I think of and speak to.


I’ve gone on a lot of low-energy hikes on the clear, flat trails around my apartment lately.  My joints are in bad shape and handling my dog Djohariah (aka Jo, sweet girl, egg, and fucko) when she has a mind to run faster than I can is no picnic, but getting back to the woods and losing myself in the exertion and travel always leaves me feeling closer to my gods than just about anything else.  I’ve seen more deer in the last few weeks than any other time I can recall in my life, and nearly all of them have been gentle and calm and willing to lead me safely into the woods.  Away from the houses and the vacant lots and the human noise, I often get a peripheral glimpse of Someone standing or crouching at the edge of the trail, hooded and staring and patient, watching the procession of does and chilling the air.  Her presence is familiar and unmistakable to me.


I take Jo to the edge of the path and sit, and breathe, and I offer Hel music and grief and awareness and love.  On closer inspection what once appeared humanoid is most often a tree, unnaturally darker than its surroundings, twisted and broken, but alive and profound all the same.  I leave a small handful of wildflowers leaning against the roots, tip out some of my water onto the ground, tell Hel aloud that I love Her.  The woods are quiet.


On the way back, I think of Hel and Her hall and the people that I’ve lost – that the world has lost, through circumstance and through malice, and I thank Hel again and again for giving those souls a place of rest, for letting me shoulder some of the work through memorials or psychopomp-ery or prayer.  I am so grateful to see what I see, and at the end of the trail I find a single crow’s feather.  It sits on my altar now where a rabbit skull used to be before a freak gust of wind threw it from the windowsill and shattered it.  We all let go of the physical sooner or later.


Speaking of high winds, hailstorms are terrifying.  And exhilarating.  There’s so much wildness in the weather here sometimes that it leaves me in awe while golf ball sized hailstones pelt the windows, rattle the door frames, and bounce dramatically off of cars in the lot below.  One of our neighbors was momentarily caught outside having a smoke when the storm started and looked so utterly disgusted by the weather that despite feeling badly for them I had to laugh.  I’m not used to weather like this.  I come from North Alabama, the heart of Dixie Alley, and severe weather there means fear and anticipation and bracing yourself for the inevitable loss of life and property.  (My mother is terrified of even minor power outages to this day as a result of the 2011 tornado outbreak and its aftereffects.)


People can die in hailstorms too, of course, and suffer property damages.  We all know this.  But something about the rolling thunder and the wind and the sudden shift in temperature strikes me as almost gleeful, at least when there’s no immediate threat to the people around me.  This kind of wild energy and the first walk around my home after a hailstorm makes me think of Hel, too – seeing the trampled plants and wondering what happened to the smaller animals that are resident to the fields and forests of my home.  There were no significant losses as a result of the hailstorms in Elk Valley the last few weeks, that I know of.  Everybody went home safely.


What makes you think of Hel lately?  Does She stand in your mind as more of a figure of loss or care?  What do you do to honor Her?