In September 2009 I was broken. My back sustained an injury at the junction between the lumbar and the thorasic vertebrae, and while my spinal cord was not directly affected, the nerves of my lower chest, abdomen, left leg and buttock, and all associated internal systems were.
I could not walk or stand without assistance, could not go to the bathroom effectively, could not lie down without careful support unless I wanted to throw up everything I had eaten that day. I could not sleep. I was in agony, and spasm. To treat the pain and spasm I was on drugs that eroded my control and cut away at what little grasp I had left of myself.
We were swiftly running out of money, my children needed what I could not provide, and yet must provide. I was struggling to force myself to do what needed to be done for them at a time when honestly I should not have been driving at all, and in which my grasp on sanity was slipping from my fingers as fast as the load of debt was piling up. I was failing on all fronts, and getting worse. Lack of sleep had driven me well past the borders of sanity, and I was living not only in the sick fear that I was failing my children, but the growing fear I was becoming a danger to them.
I locked myself away when I needed to, which grew more and more as I followed the medical system into a holding pattern that was nothing but an endless downward spiral of my physical and mental state, in which the drugs required for my physical survival were rendering me Fenris Wolf, rage without thought or limit, chained by a will that was growing tenuous and frayed, and far too often failing.
Medicine was not getting the job done. I needed to either find a better way, or I would have to end. The threat to my family must be eliminated, either by me, or as me. We are the inheritors of a rich cultural tradition as Heathens, and certain parts of it never have sat comfortably with my very comfortable and well understood scientific mindset. I cherished the world as I understood it, with rules that yielded to the tools of reasoned analysis and science. I used instinct and the esoteric senses when I fought, and when I used my skills in life saving. You learn to trust what works, and when instinct and the subconscious animal senses augment the observation and training of discipline it makes for a potent combination. I trusted those parts of my unconscious, my spirit, without question; but I did not look deeply into their source, or extend my acceptance of those parts I could prove worked into any logical correlaries because I was not looking to introduce a conflict into a comfortable worldview.
My world was burning, and I was the torch. I could no longer afford a comfortable worldview, I required a complete one. I have always said that I don’t recommend the path of the ordeal, and there are a few good reasons for my reservation. They are as follows. There is enough suffering in this world already, there is nothing noble or redeeming about suffering, it is a knife that cuts at our humanity, and while we may grow strong at our scars, we also learn to shy away from the pain, and close off those parts of ourselves that have been hurt, and give up those parts of our humanity that we have learned represent only ways to be hurt. Ordeal is a powerful, sacral thing, to use it for trivial purposes demeans the user, the rite, and the gods, spirits and ancestors. Lastly, I don’t trust me with pain. I learned early that my bloodline has an affinity for pain. We are able to use it as a source of power, to drive into our pain, to mine It for strength to push beyond all physical limits. I have watched my father destroy his body doing just that, called upon again and again because he could do what others could not, until his body was shattered as an offering to a will that would not listen to pain as it marked the limits of what was sustainable and survivable. I too have that in me, I know Ordeal is a gate that would open for me, but I also know that it is to me what single malt whiskey is to an alcoholic. Just what I want, and I will try hard to find a way to sell it as a need. This time, I actually had the need.
My children were growing to fear my rages, almost as much as I was. This could not go on. By my will it would not, but I did not know a better way. Medicine and psychiatry were pathetic failures that rendered me more and more of a danger to myself and others, and more and more helpless physically. The drugs were growing in negative side effects, and their already indifferent abilities to counter pain and spasm were actually diminishing. It was time, and past time.
Ordeals are like omelettes, you cannot get one without smashing a lot of metaphorical eggs, that correlate to real physical and mental damage. I don’t favour breaking eggs unnecessarily, but since my body was a mass of smashed eggs right now, it seemed a really good time to make an omelette.
I had not slept at this point in months, my memories are not really comprehensible, as they are so disjointed that I cannot navigate within them, nor understand them. They are encrypted in a code I cannot read, if indeed I could ever comprehend them, even at the time.
I took my pain, and my lack of sleep, and I stopped taking my pills. The doctors and nurses were quite insistent, but at that point I was surrendering to instinct, and my instincts were screaming at me that behind the veil was my only hope of aid, and while pain and lack of sleep could thin the veil enough to pierce, drugs robbed me of my will to claw my way through and seek what I needed. I know there are those who swear by psychotropic substances, they do not have the snakes in my head or the wolf in my soul. I do not cast off my internal defenses for a damned good reason, it is for your protection, and trust me, you need it.
My ordeal. I heard the storm, the literal thunder and lightning of our traditional spring storms, and I slipped into vision. I saw Woden riding Selipnir, long spear in hand, and wolves coursing before him. I felt my body twist as spasm took me, but this time I did not fight against it, but dove into it. My body shifted and tore, and I threw back my head and howled. I ran with the hunt on four legs not two. There was no thought, no reason, just the joy of my body moving tirelessly under me, the lust of the hunt and the savage joy of the kill. I woke, which indicated I actually slept, and my body was soaked in sweat, but I felt far clearer than I had in days, I had blood staining my beard and filling my mouth, and no wounds, nor signs of nosebleed to account for it. The nurses checked me for bites in tongue and mouth but found nothing.
I had the focus now that I needed. I took liquid only, no food. I stopped listening to the doctors and nurses, they were a distraction, an irritant, with nothing to contribute I had not heard a hundred times before, and they would repeat it a hundred times after, so there was no point in wasting energy I did not have on their blather.
The Wild Hunt had shown me how to surrender to the spasm to transform. That wasn’t real of course, surrendering to the spasm leads to being locked in spasm, puking all over yourself and losing control of your bodily functions while you try to breathe without being able to raise or lower your chest wall. Still, real and unreal are not the same as true and untrue, so I took what was offered and turned it sideways. I had mastered the techniques to control my pain, to master it, now Odin seemed to be suggesting I should stop. I surrendered to my pain. I did not weep, or wail, or show any of the weakness of those who fear pain, honestly, it holds no fear for me, it is like breath, a part of my life until it is over, so no real ability in inspire fear, but it hurts, oh boy, do you get familiar with exactly how much it can hurt you, given enough time. There really are no upper limits to the pain you can experience, what doesn’t kill you increases your ability to experience greater suffering. Not good news, but good to know. I surrendered to my pain. In my vision, I sat cross legged (not a chance of pulling that off in the flesh just then, trust me). I felt the pain as rising liquid. It looked like blood, and it rose over my waist, and up my chest. I simply schooled myself to accept it. Agony rose with the liquid and I wanted to reach out to the adrenaline to hammer it back down, but I must not. I let it cover my mouth and nose, and panicked. Real or not, I felt myself begin to drown, but at some point, you have to trust, so I let it happen.
There was a heavy silence and the pain became a sort of white noise that filled everything, but became hard to focus on, hard to really perceive.
I could feel the veil, the way between the worlds. I opened myself to what I have termed my skaldic vision. It is not literally a vision, it does not replace what my eyes see, it replaces the way I interpret what I see. Your mind works hard to filter out things, when you get tired those filters fail and you start seeing things. You also start to overlay things that are, with the things they represent and connect to. This is what I call skaldic vision, where you see things and people not as the literal thing, but the symbol of all they or it represents. This is like looking into a tesseract, or kaleidoscope, where as singular vision becomes the source of a thousand related images as you see the “real” object as a rock thrown in a still pond, and each ripple outward is a meaning or connection flowing outward from it. You can lose yourself in this vision, and those who walk these paths learn to ward against doing so. I did the opposite and raced outward along the opening lines, deeply into the veil between worlds, into the awareness beyond or between conscious thought and animal instinct.
Raven’s did not guide me. The followed me, and mocked me when I stopped, but they did not guide me. I sought my ancestors, specifically my grandfather Benjamin Mainer, but I did not find him. When I called out for him and followed what I felt might bring me closer I found instead an old woman.
She was working at a grinding stone, an upright one that looked like a spinning wheel. Her eyes were grey and hard, mouth lined an grim, and her body rocked as she worked the pedals to spin the wheel. She was sharpening sickles, not the half moon things you see, but perhaps a foot and half to two foot wooden shaft and matching length forward curving blade. They were not lovely instruments, well worn and made of unfinished wood with many layers of colour from hands and use. There was a screaming scrape coming from the steel as she worked the pedals and the rhythm of her rocking and grumbling drew me, even as the sight of the sparks seemed to take my sight and still my mind. I felt my heart beat slow to match the rhythm of her pedals on the wheel and my breathing matched her rocking as she continued, seemingly oblivious to me as at the same time I felt her measuring and weighing me down to the last molecule and stray thought.
She turned to look at me, and I have the sense that I told her why I was here, what I was seeking, but I would be lying if I said I remember speaking at all. I swear I communicated, I can’t actually remember doing so. She simply grunted and extended to me a package wrapped in tattered black cloth, it was about half the height of a 7.62mm Ammo box, but the same width and length, it felt heavy, but solid as if there was no room for anything to shift inside it.
“You will not open this swiftly, and may never open it at all. I give nothing that is not earned. Work for it”
I turned to leave and emotion entered her voice for the first time.
“You did not ask the way back boy”
I snarled, my rage actually had my teeth bared and blood hammering at the thought I needed such aide, which is really, really ironic considering how over my head I was, and how much disparity I could feel in the depth of the two of us. If I cast a shadow in this place like rubber duck, she cast one like the bloody Bismark so much broader, deeper, and denser than my own presence that In retrospect I wonder how solid I actually appeared to her. Arrogance has always been my defining characteristic, and my balls have a better record of defining my probable course of action than my brain in most cases, so I absolutely meant it when I hurled my defiance back at the very potential of her mockery or suggestion of her contempt.
Her laughter had a simply uncomplicated joy that lifted a burden I did not even realize I was carrying, and I turned to slog towards my self. Since working with Tranceportation I do not have to do any of what I had to do at that point to find my way back to myself, but then I really did have to go the long way, and the weight of what I was carrying had my heart hammering, my limbs burning, and my breath gasping. The fact I didn’t actually have my body along for the ride should make that all really hard to explain, but honestly logic not a great tool inside visions. They have their own rules, play by them or lose.
I would love to give you a fairy tale about what was in that package, but I can’t I don’t know. I would love to be able to articulate how I gained control over my pain and my spasm and was able to toss the drugs I was supposed to be on for the rest of my life. I can’t. I cannot tell you what the tools were I was given, they are mine, they are a part of me now. I sought them in my ordeal, and I found them. They took time and self mastery to master. If I could teach others what I have learned, I would retire a millionaire, but I am not Diana Paxson, I can’t take what I see in those realms and translate it into a model my logic will accept and can use any more than I can fly by flapping my arms and making crow calls.
I am pretty close to 100% functional now, without question the strongest and most high endurance person in my workplace of over a hundred, even if my work is largely supervisory. I am safer to be around than at any time in my life, and am able to bring joy, love, and protection to those around me. This I got through the path of ordeal, through the practices of Heathenry and Seidr.
The world view I am most comfortable with is hard science and reason, but all scientists understand that what we have are models of reality, not truths. We use the best models we have, because through understanding those models you can predict the performance of the universe and make intelligent choices with a reasonable expectation that a given action will have the predicted result. This works. This is reason. There are things the best models of science cannot explain, places they cannot help you choose, cannot offer any guidance to navigate. There are other models that are required in these places that reason does not tread, and the only reasonable, rational, thing to do, is to accept that a model you have proven works is the right tool for navigating these areas.
A rational worldview would leave me either a danger to my family, or dead by my own hand to prevent it. A more complete world view encompasses both the rational scientific world I am comfortable with, and the unseen world, the world that our ancestral practices of Seidr and Galdor exist to help us navigate and function in. My life, my ability to care for, provide for, protect, and love my family at this point is owed to those esoteric practices that my comfortable world view did not contain. For this reason, I accepted my responsibility to push my understanding into the esoteric traditions our ancestors left for us.
Having accepted this gift, and benefitted from its teachings, I am obligated to give my thanks to those who rekindled these traditions, and offer my support to those in the community who have been mocked for pursuing the more esoteric traditions that have always been a part of Heathenry, but which many of the mainstream heathen groups choose to reguard with somewhere between amusement and revulsion.