This blog occasionally cross-posts the accounts of other bloggers who have contributed or experienced Raven’s Knoll. The following post is written by Juniper Jeni about her experience leading the esoteric ritual at last year’s Hail and Horn Gathering as a völva. Juniper is an Ottawa witch with a wonderful blog called Walking the Hedge and is an organizer of The Witches’ Sabbat gathering.
As we huffed and puffed our way up the soggy path to the Vé carrying bags, boxes and a large wicker chair, Grey and I joked about how this is exactly the sort of thing they don’t tell you in Pagan 101 books. The behind the scenes work you never think of when attending a ritual. Carrying a massive, heavy chair over swampy ground while being eaten alive by all manner of bugs.
After Grey left me alone in Vé, I set about setting up. Laying out the altar, lighting candles, all that stuff. I must have exited and then entered the Vé a dozen times during my preparations. At first I properly curtsied and said “Hail!” each time. Then after about the 4th rendition, I switched to my old standard, how I greet the spirits that reside with my own craft room “Hey guys!” or “Back again” or “Knock knock”. But finally I simply gave it up entirely. They were watching, those gods in the poles. They knew what I was up to. I chatted at them the entire time, telling them every silly little random thought that entered my mind as I worked until there was nothing more to tell Them. With my preparations complete, now began the wait.
It’s a rather uncomfortable thing, to realize you have to pee while in the woods, outside a sacred site, with no restroom nearby. I moved into the bushes as far away from the Vé as I dared to go, and found myself wondering how many völvas and the like throughout history had snuck off to empty their bladders before the folk arrived for a mind-blowing ritual? I glanced sideways at the god poles standing tall, barely seen over the weeds I squatted in. I grinned up at Frigg’s pole. “All of them, at some point, I bet!” More things they don’t tell you about, or they simply don’t think about.
The sun set and the mosquitoes came out. Birds sang and the small creatures of the forest skittered about in the tree limbs. I pondered the stuff they don’t tell you as I stood outside the Vé, leaning against the weapon rack, smoking a cigarette.
My black princess satin robe with black eyelet over-robe had bell sleeves that had been hemmed short to avoid catching fire – one of the things they DO tell you. But the hem of the robe’s skirting was rather long. Perfect for prancing about in a temple room, wearing shoes (the better if heels) but barefoot or sandalded in an outdoor Vé? Not so much. Ah well, I would just have to watch my footing and hold the skirting up a bit. Nothing to do about it now. Not with the folk soon to be on their way, and me squeezed into a fancy robe that is so snug it takes a coven to get me in and out of it.
One thing they don’t tell you about is the wait. Ritual space has been prepared. Candles have been lit. Incense burning. The witch has been carefully squeezed into her elaborate robe. Now, the wait.The wait can ruin you if you let it. Butterflies begin to form in your belly. The what-ifs reach insidious tendrils into your mind, spreading fear and doubt.
The wind will blow out the candles. The bugs will be so ferocious that it will ruin the mood. You’ll trip over that stupid robe. They are all going to laugh at you. Frigg will refuse to ride you, refuse to answer questions, refuse the offerings. The high seat, which is really just a wicker chair, doesn’t look like a high seat, it looks like a wicker chair.
The wait will ruin you, if you let it.
So I didn’t focus on the wait. I focused on the coming storm. I could feel it there, gathering at the edge of Vé, gathering around her newly raised god pole. I could feel it gathering at the edge of my own mind. The storm that I was to call, to invite, to invoke, to summon, to funnel into my own head and unleash within.
I finished my cigarette and stepped back into the Vé. With careful steps I approached Frigg’s god pole. I wrapped my arms around the pole and rested my head against it. I repeated each step of the ritual out loud, three times.
I knew she was listening. The storm was gathering. I whispered words to her that I would repeat later during the ritual: Frigg I ask you to do this thing, not for my own ego. Not so I can impress my friends. I ask you to do this for the folk. These folk who honour you. Who study and research and read the lore to learn about you. These folk who talk about you and share your stories. These folk who sing your praises and give offerings to you. These folk who have gathered here this weekend, who have carved this pole and raised it. Do it for these folk who seek your wisdom and guidance. They deserve it. Please.
The gathering storm is even stronger now. I can feel her within the god pole I lean against. Waiting, watching. I hear steps coming down the path to the Vé. Deliberately loud so as not to surprise me. “That’ll be Auz” I whisper.
Amusement and mischief run down and through the god pole. I find myself grinning. “Shall we make him wait then, Lady?” I ask.
Yes. She seems to be a playful mood. So we ignore the steps and wait until he politely clears his throat. With a final pat, I step away from the god pole. It’s time to take our places, the folk will be coming soon. The ritual to begin.
I am clumsy and awkward throughout the first part of the ritual. The storm is building and it takes away my ability to focus on the here and now. Grey acts as my handmaiden and without her I would have been lost. My concentration is on the coming storm. I drop something once and another time find myself accidentally reaching into the thrunble, my fingers touching the red-hot incense coals, my fingers come out black and sooty, yet they feel no heat. No burns, though there should have been. Her storm is building and she is protecting me.
I step up to the altar and make my offerings, promising more at the end of the ritual if all goes well. I entreat her. I speak the words I had so carefully practiced before. Now I am in the calm before the storm. My ability to sense energy and the unseen has become deaf-blind. All I feel is a nearly painful anticipation. As Gandlaf would say: the deep breath before the plunge. I am told later by the folk that they felt the energy in the Vé pulse outwards with each sentence as I entreated her and begged her participation. I sense nothing. I feel nothing. If she has acquiesced to my request, I do not know.
I step up to the god pole anyway. I rest my hands upon it and lean my forehead against the smooth wood. Touching it with my third eye. I breathe. Grey teaches the folk my power song, to help me enter into trance. They begin to sing.
I find the storm again, gathering around and within the god pole. Adjusting my stance, holding up the hem of my damnable robe with one hand, I begin to circle the god pole, wrapping my hand and arm around it for balance and connection. After the first couple of slow and careful rotations I begin to worry. I’m totally going to trip. Earlier Grey had warned me to be careful as I spun around the pole, the last thing we needed was for me to fall and brain myself on Odin’s pole standing right beside Frigg’s. I’m uncoordinated in trance. One reason why I generally don’t do trance-dancing around the fire, I simply dance. Ah but walking, and this spinning around a pole or tree, this works for me, so long as I don’t trip. I bite my lip in concern.
Just then I feel a hand cover my mine, clasping me gently to the pole. Steadying me. Guiding me. She wasn’t about to let me fall. Trustingly I spin. I spin and I spin around the pole widdershins. Gradually taking faster and firmer steps. I close my eyes and focus on the storm within.
I have no sense as to whether my steps take on a rhythm. I do not think they matched the odd beat of the song the folk sang to me. The words of the chant are difficult to wrap your mouth around. The chant doesn’t rhyme, the meter doesn’t quite match up. But it has certain words that can be triggers for me and a certain urgency needed for the occasion. An odd and awkward song for an odd and awkward witch.
I breathe deeply. My feet pound the earth. I spin around the pole. Chaos rages in my mind, a swirling mess of a thing. Unfettered and unhinged. Thoughts cannot fully form before they are swept away in the storm. Ring-a-ring a-widdershins, whirlin skirlin widdershin. The storm inside builds momentum, matching the quickening pace of my feet. I spin at a pace that feels dangerous. I am held fast by that spectral hand. A greater storm, a hurricane, rages above and within the god pole itself. My insignificant little human mind does it’s best to match, a tempest in a tea-cup. Here we go round the mulberry bush, so early in the morning. I am stretched thin, pulled by the spiraling forces outwards. My consciousness swirls at the edge of myself, expanding outwards. I spin even faster, the chanting is louder. I throw my head back, then down. Ring-a-round the rosie, pocket full of posie. The sound of the folks chanting has become a distant thing, overshadowed by the rushing in my ears. My little storm slips just beyond the confines of mind and body, swirling at the threshold, neither without nor within. It brushes against the hurricane that is Frigg. Electric. Wild. Not as force of nature, but a force of the multiverse. I can comprehend her as well and an ant can understand my foot. I could just let go completely, surrender. My little storm would be swept away into the maelstrom like a crow feather in a hurricane. Ashes ashes we all fall down.
Enough. I’m not sure which one of us decides. But it is enough. I halt, bringing my other arm around the pole, facing it again. Returning to my original position.
I am not dizzy.
I have reached the calm after the storm. After the rain has washed away the detritus, the wind has blown away the debris. Now the smell of freshness after the rain. the brilliant quality of sunlight after the clouds move on. The clean crisp feeling in the air after a summer thunder-storm has passed by.
Perfect, painful clarity of mind. A spreading out and in of consciousness. With my now heightened senses I am aware of everything within the Vé. Sharp as a tack, clear as a new day.
This is what lies beyond ecstasy. When one has not strayed from their body.
I am a clean vessel. A hollow bone.
Grey moves towards me silently and gently takes my arm. I disengage from the god pole and allow her to lead me to the high seat. I land in it pretty hard. Such an uncoordinated witch. Ah, well.
Grey teaches the folk the next song. The chant to call Frigg within. For a moment I lean my head back and open my eyes to gaze at the stars. Thier beauty is to grounding, to real, so I close my eyes again and turn my focus inward once more.
As the folk take up the chant, Grey begins to dress me. A shawl, draperies, a dish in my lap, spindle in hand, distaff in the other, and a veil over my head. I am only dimly aware of this happening. Instead, I am reaching for the door.
Somewhere, deep inside, where the mind, the soul and the body meet there is a door. A quiet little backdoor. I do not know if everyone has this door. I do not know if anyone can find it. I do not know if everyone could open it. I do not know if anyone could close it back up again. I do know it wouldn’t be safe for most people to try.
I can’t tell you where to find it. I was shown the backdoor by a very different god than the one who I was about to invite in.
Reaching back, I find the door and cautiously open it. Standing on the threshold, I call out an invitation. This way, this way, here I am. Come in and be welcome.
Grey ties a cord of red linen (that I have spun with my drop spindle) around my neck, runs it the length between the high seat and the god pole and then ties the other end around the pole. An umbilical. A pathway. A noose. I hang from the god pole and wait.
Are you there Frigg? It’s me Juniper.
I step aside from the backdoor and press myself against the very wall of myself. Making room for her. I wait. I am unsure if she is coming. I have never invited this god in before, never been her horse, her hollow bone. With others, there was a rush. An entitled barging in, helping themselves. Pushing me aside so that I have nearly no control, no awareness, little say in the proceedings.
Frigg was so gentle, so delicate that I wasn’t sure she had come at all…until she laughed, using my voice. A raw, rough cackle of a laugh escaped my lips. It startled me and I think it startled Grey who was standing beside the high seat, reciting words the entice the goddess.
I felt here there, filling me. She didn’t shove me down to some half oblivion. She didn’t put blinders over her horse’s eyes. She let me stay aware and awake. Pressed up against the wall of myself, out of way but welcome.
Grey steps away from the high seat and assumes her position between the seat and the side altar. She says something, but I can’t recall what it was. I was preoccupied with the hurricane. Getting used to her in me, as she was getting used to being in me.
My mouth worked silently a few times. My tongue rolled around in my mouth. It’s a strange thing, to stand back and witness another get accustomed to using your face. It was only a few seconds, but it seemed like an eternity.
“We should say something, to get the ball rolling.” I suggested.
I could feel her consider what to say.
“What do you WANT?” tore from my throat. Still rough, still getting used to using my voice.
I think Grey was taken aback. I think Frigg found this incredibly amusing. My face contorted into a rictus grin. I was glad the for the veil.
Grey asked Frigg something. Asking permission to go ahead with the questioning.
I think it took a few moments to get a response, as at that time she decided she wanted use of my hands. Since she was being such a gracious guest and had actually asked politely to have use of my upper body, I agreed that would be fine.
She waved one hand around, inexpertly. “Very well”
So it began.
My memory of the actual questioning is spotty. Dream like. I remember some parts very clearly and others not at all. For example, at some point someone gave an apple as an offering. I have no memory of this at all. I only know an apple was given because after the ritual was done, I found bits of apple stuck in my teeth. I asked Grey and she confirmed; someone had indeed given an apple.
Some offerings I remember and others I do not. In some cases I remember who gave what, but mostly I’m unsure which person gave which offering. I know that she liked mead more than ale or beer (but she still really enjoyed the ale and beer). Frigg was very interested in hand/home-made items, she seemed to approve of them quite a bit. One person gave a very personal and valued object, a true sacrifice, and she was deeply touched.
I also learned that Frigg loves plums. One of the folk gave a plum (along with something else). She approved of the gifts, answered the question and then as the person was going back to their seat, Frigg suddenly wanted more plums. She was about to open my mouth and demand more plums. In an instant I had to go from polite host leaning against the back wall, idly watching the proceedings, to stern little Hedgewitch. “No. Not right now. People are waiting to ask their questions. I’ll let the whole world know you like plums, there will be more plums in the future.”
Can you tell a god “NO”? Do you have the strength of will to tell a god, who is currently inside of you “no”?
Can you tell a god “NO”? Do you have the strength of will to tell a god, who is currently inside of you, that they can’t have something they want? Knowing that if you pissed them off enough, that god could tear your mind, your soul, to pieces in an instant?
This is where is gets really, truly dangerous. Bloody, stupidly dangerous. I’ve heard about it, read about it, seen it with my own eyes. While it is something that may be spoken of and written about, it seem that it is one of those things they don’t often tell you about. Or maybe it is one of those things that people tell you about, but many folks just don’t listen.
People acting as a horse for a god who demands more and more alcohol, leaving the horse with alcohol poising by the end of it.
People who let a god in and awaken the next morning sticky, naked and laying beside someone who they never would have consented to have sex with. Wondering if a condom had been used, wondering what had happened, and if that was the only person.
Gods who once in, refuses to leave until a certain offering is made to them, causing the people in attendance to scramble around, possibly having to rush to a store or other person’s house to find it.
Gods who once inside and approached by someone they dislike, by someone who disbelieves in that god, or by someone who lies to their horse’s face, and are then kicked or hit. Much to the horror of the attendees and the horse.
The gods are dangerous. They can destroy you in an instant. Inside of me, brushing up against my mind and spirit, Frig could have dealt me serious damage with a single lashing.
The gods are powerful. I met a god once who upon seeing me torn asunder in the underworld, put me back together again with the ease of a well practised father reattaching a doll’s head to it’s body. And then demanded a price for his services.
I know of someone who once cut down a tree sacred to the gods, by mistake. Shortly afterwards he died suddenly of a brain aneurysm. His spouse was driven insane with grief.
I know of someone who lied under oath to his elders, swearing by Odin as he did so. And was shortly after hit by a truck, his body broken. While he laid in traction, his wife left him. Being in the USA, the hospital bills caused him to loose what the wife did not take with her. Later, he confessed his lie to his elders and over the next while, found love again, found a good job and rebuilt his life.
I know someone who once promised Freya that she would sacrifice a rabbit to her. A difficult gift for a vegan. She put it off, and put it off. Until she started dreaming of rabbits. She poured an expensive wine into a beautiful wooden bowl, asking Freya to accept this offering instead. The next morning the bowl had been split in half, where it lay, the wine ruining the altar cloth, as flies buzzed around it.
More than once, I have been penniless, jobless and living under another’s roof and hospitality. Exhausted, depressed and feeling hopeless. Walking on blistered feet, desperately searching for a job in a strange city. A homeless man with one black eye swollen shut, a long grey beard and a cane asked me for spare change. I gave him half of my last dollars. And shortly after found a job, a home and my way in a new city.
It’s one of those things people don’t like to talk about. How the gods are bigger than us. So much MORE than us. How dangerous and difficult and capricious and troublesome they can be. We want the gods to be our friends. Many people i know want to feel as if they are on equal footing as the gods. They refuse to consider having something in universe bigger and stronger than they are.
We want an all-knowing, all-loving, omnipresent super goddess who changes everything she touches and everything she touches changes. Who never, ever, gets angry with us, because she is beyond anger, or hate or spite.
Never mind what the lore tells us. Gods who rape. Gods who kill. Gods who lie, cheat and steal. Gods who lash out in jealously. Gods who betray their kin. Gods who impulsively give up their sword for a nice piece of ass, and thus must fight the battle at the end of all things with an antler in hand.
Those are just myths, of course. They don’t mean anything. Except when they do.
I try to talk to people about how the gods are so powerful, so awesome and greater-than. How terrifying they can be. I’m usually just misunderstood. Perhaps I do not articulate it well enough. Perhaps people just don’t want to think about it.
Perhaps most people never experience these things, because most of us never move beyond the basics. Most of us will never invite the hurricane in our heads. Most of us will never be torn apart by nice little birdies in the underworld and need to make a deal with the Master to get put back together again.
Do you have the balls to tell Frigg She can’t have any more plums? Do you have any idea how much balls and sass it takes to do just that? Do you have any idea how stupidly dangerous it can be?
I’ve seen it before, read about it and heard about it. One of those things they do tell you about, sometimes. If during such a rite, you just start giving the god anything they demand, they will keep demanding. Rituals derailed as everyone scrambles to find more plums, and then have to sit there for an hour as they watch Frigg eat a bag of plums. Holding a horse’s hair away from her face while she pukes up a belly full of plums. You can ask them to take away the drunkenness, or make sure the horse doesn’t get sick from eating a pound of plums. Sometimes they will do just that.
It’s a risk you have to be willing to take when you do this kind of work. The chance you might find yourself with battered and bruised feet, a sick stomach full of plums, a wicked hang over, a STD because the god riding you decided to screw someone. You also have to be willing and able to say no, if you can. Maybe they won’t listen, maybe they will get pissed off and lash out, maybe they will just leave, maybe you’ll ruin your relationship with them for good. Maybe you’ll wind up a poet, a witch, a madman or dead.
You have to be able to calculate the risks. If you aren’t willing to accept the risks, don’t do this kind of work. It’s okay to decide it’s not for you.
So I told Frigg no more plums. Thankfully she was okay with that. Such a nice goddess. The next person came up to ask their question and she was back on task, the plums forgotten. Thank goodness gods are often easily distracted. No more mead for you…here have a shiny thing!
Sometimes she was more present than others and sometimes I was more present than others. Hence the spotty memory, I suppose. I remember some of the questions and not others. Like the offerings, in many cases I remember a question but not which person asked it. Or I remember a person coming up to the high seat, but not the question they asked.
Once a person had asked their question, they chose a few pieces from my casting collection and placed them in the bowl in our lap. Together we read the augry. I know my set well enough to recognize the pieces by feel, even the polished stones. A very interesting thing, that I will ponder and utilise, is that she had a slightly different take on the meanings/symbolism of a few of the pieces. Her impressions of them were similar but not quite the same.
There were cases where only one piece really mattered, others where each piece chosen mattered. Cases where the pieces only reinforced what she already was going to say. Cases where she read the pieces and then added something else as well.
Watching Frigg use my set was very educational and I’m glad I chose to go that route. Typically, you don’t use a divinatory device during such a rite, the god simply answers the questions. They already know the answer. However, my set is very important to me, and a major part of my practice. I figured that if she wasn’t interested in it, she would ignore it. Her willingness to use it, her approval of it, and her showing me different interpretations of some of the pieces was very rewarding!
A lot of folks had a hard time finding the bowl in our lap. It was very dark. I’m told that the darkness surrounding the high seat grew even deeper whenever Frig was strongest in me. A few people struggled to find the bowl, a couple missed it entirely, but she was patient. At one point she picked up the bowl and waved it around a bit, I think to help the questioner find it.
One piece from the set kept being chosen, over and over again. Thorn. The little stick of hawthorn, shaped like a stang. Sometimes she ignored the piece and sometimes she read it. I began to worry the bag wasn’t be shaken well enough, so in response, she pointed one imperious finger at Grey and commanded her to shake the bag. Still, Thorn kept coming up. A message for me? A message for the group? Both? A strange coincidence? I do not know. More to meditate on. In my set Thorn is used to symbolise witchcraft, magick, the cunning arts and so forth. Though amongst a bunch of Heathens, Thorn could take on a slightly different meaning.
Eventually, everyone who dared to had come before the high seat. Grey asked Frigg if she was done? In response, she knocked my stang/distaff over. Grey and I had agreed that if at any point, I needed the ritual to end, I would knock down the distaff. If I could, if I had enough control to do so. I don’t recall explaining this to Frig, but being in my head, she knew.
So they thanked Frigg and hailed her. Then chant asking her to leave me was sung. Grey cut the cord and began to remove my draperies. I lost all thought and consciousness as she left me. She went as gently as she came and it almost felt like dozing off on a lazy summer afternoon.
I heard my friends calling my name. Calling me back. I struggled toward the sound of their voices, slowing spreading myself back within myself. Filling my own vessel once again. Suddenly, Grey pulled off the veil I wore. It was like when your mother rips the blankets off the bed, to wake you, on a cold morning. I must have made a very unhappy face! It was less than pleasant and suddenly very cold. Mental note for next time: always tell you handmaiden to SLOWLY remove the veil! However it did the trick, and with a few groans and stretches I was back properly in my body, my mind fairly settled. I was back amongst the folk.
“Hey Juni” Grey said tenderly, as she bent over me.
“Hey” I said back and leaned forward for a hug.
Then I said; “I have to pee.”