In Norse mythology we meet Hel, Queen of Hel, not to be confused with the Christian Hell, the two are drastically different places. Hel, who Odin gave dominion over the nine realms, is described in the 13th century by the Icelander Snorri Sturluson as half fleshed-coloured and half blue. Hel has a knife called Famine, a plate called Hunger, a bed called Disease and curtains called Misfortune. She is said to be a child of the giantess Angrboda and Loki, sibling of the wolf Fenrir and the World Serpent, Jormungandr who are both foretold to be agents of Ragnarok.
“A lot of people tend to confuse Ragnarok with the Christian term Armageddon, which means the end of the world, but that is not the case here because in the old Norse way of thinking everything moved in cycles. So, it’s basically telling the story about a ring that ends, but also a ring that begins. So, something needs to die for something else to live.”
~ Einar Selvik
Many scholars associate Hel’s blue with the blue of a corpse since she rules in the Underworld and cares for the dead. But I wonder if perhaps her blue means something more. Let’s consider the stature of blue in ancient times and its connection to the Virgin Mary and Royalty. Let’s also consider just how powerful Hel is shown to be. When Baldr, the favourite amongst the gods dies from trickery, Hermodr journeys to the Underworld to petition Hel with returning the beloved Baldr back to the living and the celestial realms.
Hel decrees that all things living, and dead must weep for Baldr, when this fails to happen, due to some further trickery (looking at you Loki), Baldr is forced to remain in Hel until Ragnarok. Not even the powerful god Odin or his powerful wife Frigg or his mighty son Thor could gain victory over Hel’s decree.
Is there perhaps a connection between the weeping that Hel has said must happen for Baldr to return and the turning of the seasons? Weeping, tears, water, the element needed to nurture new life to grow, so the light can be reborn. Is this tale the tattered remnants of a more ancient story of the turning of the seasons? Or a hero’s journey to the underworld, where they await the rebirth that will come at the turning of the wheel, at Ragnarok, where all will be destroyed, as yet not destroyed, but made new.
Hel whose name means hidden or concealed, who lives under one of the roots of Yggdrasil (the world tree) and is guardian of the dead, seems to be one of the most powerful deities in the Norse pantheon. Who are you really Hel? What is your truth? Your true history? Do your roots stem from the same deity as Kali, as has been suggested, or perhaps a Chthonic Goddess lost to time.
Some see you as scary, finding it hard to even say your name. But I’m intrigued. Why am I drawn to you Hel? Is it your liminality, your darkness, your kindness in caring for the dead, or the great power you wield?
Growing up no one would have blamed you for thinking that menstrual blood was blue. The world seemly too embarrassed to show red blood on menstrual product commercials would often use a blue liquid, adding to the confusion and over all denial around a natural (and for many of us) inevitable process that would take place with our bodies. How many times have we seen the blood of violence on TV? While the blood of life is met with shame.
A study done in 2016 found there to be over 5000 slang terms for period. While slang terms can be fun and make it easier to talk about menstruation there are compelling reasons to consider using terms such as period, menstruation and menstrual blood. Using the proper terms makes it easier to educate young menstruators about what’s going on with their bodies. Simply put confusing terms, can lead to confusion. When we use the proper terms this leads to an increase in self-esteem, self-confidence and self-advocacy for menstruators.
The Goddess Kamakhya, Goddess of Desire, The Bleeding Goddess
The Goddess Sati was married to Lord Shiva, her father Dakska did not approve of this marriage. Daksha hosted a ritual and invited everyone, all the gods, goddesses and celestial beings except for Lord Shiva. The Goddess Sati went to the ritual, despite protests from her husband. During the ritual in front of all the honoured guests her father Daksha insulted Lord Shiva, humiliating his daughter. The Goddess Sati was so upset that she threw herself upon the ritual fire, killing herself.
Lord Shiva deep in his mediation on mount Kailash, felt the disturbance in the force and materialised at the ritual. Upon seeing the burnt body of his beloved wife he slipped into a deep despair. Throwing the Goddess Sati’s body over his shoulder, Lord Shiva took up his divine Tandava dance. The other gods rather concerned, asked for Lord Vishnu’s help. Lord Vishnu with his Sudarshana Chakra (a whirling discus weapon) cuts the Goddess Sati’s body to pieces. Where these many pieces fall, spring up the Holy Shakti Peethas, the places of worship for the Great Mother Goddess.
In the place where the womb (yoni) of the Goddess Sati falls springs up the Goddess Kamakhya. The Kamakhya Temple in Assam India, is a pilgrimage site for tantric practitioners from all over the world as well as anyone with womb issues. It is said that once a year the river at this temple turns red. Whether this is from iron deposits being churned up with the monsoons or from the temple priests adding vermillion to the waters, who can say? During this time of year there is a festival that celebrates the menstruating Goddess. Also once a month the temple is closed for three days when the Goddess Kamakhya has her period. Inside the temple there is a sacred stone that is covered in a white cloth. This stone is said to be always wet and during the three days the water on the stone turn red. This red cloth is cut up and given to people coming to the temple for womb healing.
In her following incarnation the Goddess Sati returns as the Goddess Paravti.
Jessika is a menstrual cycle guide and dark Goddess enthusiast. She is committed to transmuting menstrual shame into menstrual empowerment!