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What is deathwalking? When my patron introduced the topic I was directed to Kelly Harrel, and found this article on her site.
Deathwalking, from my perspective, is making sure that a being leaving (or that has left) form has closure on the life that came before leaving, that the being is escorted to the threshold of What Comes Next, is at peace with going beyond that threshold into the next destiny, and leaving the being in the place to do just that on its own terms.
Deathwalking, in short, is spiritual hospice.
First, I want to acknowledge that there is the possibility of a variety of afterlives in Norse Heathenry. When thinking about dying and the Old Norse worldview most folks default to Valhalla/Valhöll. However, there is also Helheim, where most of our Dead live. There is also Rán and Ægir’s hall for the Dead who die at sea, Fólkvangr with Freyja who chooses the first half of the slain warriors, and the burial mound which we may or may not understand as being connected with/to Helheim. When we are talking about deathwalking how we die in the Heathen worldview does matter because it can depend on who you end up with. The way of dying has an impact on how we engage in a deathwalking.
Second, I want to acknowledge that there is a soul matrix within Heathenry, and it is seen as having as few as four parts or as many as seventeen depending on which soul matrix you work with. I work with the seventeen part soul matrix model. This matters insofar as deathwalking is concerned because some parts of the soul matrix go away upon death of the lich (physical body) and others are shared between people, such as with the hamingja. If deathwalking is needed for certain soul parts you may need to do certain rites and/or to be a spiritual specialist to do this.
As we dig into deathwalking we need to dig into death and dying itself. These require questions that are often hard or uncomfortable, but are questions which we each need to think critically about. What is a good death? At what point do you cease treatment for an illness or injury? What is your treshold of tolerance for pain? What are you unwilling to go through? Do you have family members and/or loved ones who will carry out your wishes in the face of you dying? Do you have spiritual specialists or volunteers to help you through the dying and death process, eg priest, shaman, vaettirverkr, death midwife, etc.?
If we are going to approach the idea of deathwalking as spiritual hospice then we need to take a look at how we wish to approach the end of life both ideally and practically. If this is hard for you to think on your own then I suggest looking for a local Death Cafe and reaching out to the Polytheist Death Guild and other Pagans, especially locals, to talk with on the subject. It is important to know that getting help when someone is approaching death or dies is a good thing. If you are close to the dying/Dead you will likely need it.
While going into all the factors you will want to consider for your own death is beyond the scope of this post, some things to think on for care after you are dead are: Are there vé (sacred space), ceremonial objects, etc that you want passed on or need special disposing/cleaning/cleansing/offering of? If so, who can you trust to do those things? Are there donations that you want your clothing, goods, unclaimed ceremonial objects, etc to go to? What kinds of ceremonies do you want for your soul matrix? What kind of disposition would you like for your body after you die? Do you want a vé set up at your final place of rest? Do you want specific things placed with you in the grave/urn/mound/tree roots/etc.? Do you want pieces of your body given to certain causes, eg organ donation? Do you want your bones (such as knucklebones for divination), skin (eg tattoo skin pieces as memento mori) or other body parts to be given to loved ones, Kindredmates, etc.? Again, if you need help to research and answer these questions I recommend the Polytheist Death Guild, Death Cafes, talking to your local funeral homes, and talking with fellow Heathens, polytheists, and Pagans you trust.
With this in mind we can explore deathwalking from a Heathen perspective.
Dying and Deathwalking in Heathenry
Death is the end of one life cycle and the beginning of another. Whether you believe in reincarnation or not, Heathenry acknowledges several afterlives. Death is not ‘the end’; it is a transition. Where you spend that afterlife with what soul parts, or at least some time in that next life before transitioning in corporeal life, is dependant on how you die.
Dying, then, is not a punishment. It is a consequence of having lived. The concept of ‘an early death’ is an odd one in which everyone’s örlog in the tapestry of urðr is woven according to the length and strength of its own thread. We may have had the the potential for more life if we had woven our örlog different, but death comes when it comes; it is not early or late.
Likewise, when you die where you end up is not a punishment. I say this even for oathbreakers and traitors. Their destination is the Náströnd, to be chewed by Niðögg in the lowest realm of Helheim. They are too polluted by their choices to go anywhere else. This differentiation of punishment vs consequence is actually fairly important. A punishment is “The infliction or imposition of a penalty as retribution for an offence.” and consequence is “A result or effect, typically one that is unwelcome or unpleasant.” Nowhere that I have read in the lore are the Dead punished. Rather, where the Dead end up is a result of the choices that They have made and where They have died.
Deathwalking in Heathenry is a multilayered process. Among these layers are the Holy Powers the person worshiped and worked with that the deathwalker will need to make prayers, offerings, and perhaps petition for help, as well as care for the soul matrix of the person who is going through the deathwalk. Since most of us are going to be walking the Hel-road, the road that leads to Helheim, and since most of our Ancestors are there, having a good working relationship with Hela now is something I firmly suggest.
Ideally the person helping the dying or the Dead is a vaettirverkr (spirits worker), but since we are so few and spread out one may not be readily available. For anyone taking on this work a daily regimen of cleansing, grounding, centering, shielding, and actively warding one’s home is a necessity. By grounding I mean letting go of excess spiritual energy, taking in that which you need, and otherwise being solid in the energy you yourself have. By centering I mean to center yourself, your soul matrix, in the goal you have at hand for the day and/or before doing spiritual work. by shielding I mean doing personal warding work, usually done with magic, the Runevaettir, and other vaettir with whom you are aligned, so that your soul matrix is kept safe. Warding your home is much the same, save you are working with your húsvaettir as well as the other components of personal warding work. The reason for all of this work on the daily is so you are clean to do the work, including offerings, rites, and so on that may be needed as you go through the deathwalk with the dying or Dead.
Knowing your limits is a big part of doing this work effectively, and both the deathwalker and the dying/Dead need a support system. For the dying this means that the deathwalker needs to have people they can talk with, reach out to, divine with/for them, and all the other support that one may need. Likewise, a support network for the dying person will help them to process their grief and other emotions, wrap up affairs, and ideally to do any other needed work before the person dies. For the Dead part of that support system is, generally, the Dead’s Ancestors, and the Gods and vaettir they worshiped and worked with before death, which is why offering cultus to those Beings is part of a deathwalker’s job.
I refer here back to Harrell’s post:
Deathwalkers don’t just see the dead. They feel their grief, their pain (physical, emotional, psychological), they somatically experience their deaths. This is the point that training in counseling technique and having various modalities of healing under your belt make a huge difference between someone who intuitively is aware of the dead, and someone who walks effectively and healthily among them–and back. No matter how much affinity you have with the dead, I’ve never met anyone who just knew how to deal with the emotional and psychological baggage it stirs, or how to deal with resistant dead. Again I say, find a mentor.
Deathwalking, wherever we are beginning from, whether pre-mort or post-mortem, starts with making prayers and offerings to the person’s Gods, as well as their Ancestors and vaettir. The reinforcement of right relationship with the Holy Powers the person holds dear can give comfort to the dying and smooth the transition from life to death for the Dead. It also starts off the person doing the deathwalking and any rites associated with it the best foot forward, especially if, before this, the deathwalker has never had occasion to worship and/or work with this person’s Holy Powers.
If the person one is doing deathwalking for is still alive, then focusing on the person is of the utmost importance. It is hard to overemphasize what a liminal point the person is approaching. Deaths have the power to bring families and communities together or see them shattered. Approached and engaged in well they can be deeply binding to the person and the people they are leaving, producing a good and beautiful death that instructs those they leave behind how to live well. A person who dies poorly, or whose passing is not respected or treated with care, may make wounds on the Dead and they in turn on the living.
These are the situations deathwalkers who are asked for help post-mortem may have to grapple with. Having a firm grasp on what you are there to do is necesssary. A deathwalker is there to tend to the Dead and Their needs, and whom you serve in such a capacity are the God(s) of the Dead, the Dead person, and perhaps through these connections you may serve the Dead’s family/kindred/tribe/community. First and foremost are the Gods, Ancestors, vaettir, and the Dead person. Being clear about this with any next-of-kin and holding this line starts things off on the right foot because this is what their support networks are there for. Likewise, this is what your own support networks are there for. If a family member is unsure about what to do with a given item, such as a Rune set the Dead left behind without instruction, this is where you as the deathwalker can tap into your own support network and ask for divination rather than shouldering everything yourself. You will have more than enough work to do with the Gods, Ancestors, vaettir, and the Dead. If you can, delegating will save you a lot of energy better oriented towards deathwalking. Having community contacts that the family, kindred, etc can contact regularly through this process of grief and celebration can be of deep help because it takes having to do that heavy lifting off of your shoulders and puts it with someone who can devote their capacity to that.
So how to do this spiritual work? I will give here some examples for someone who might be or has been called to do deathwalking. Keep in mind during all this, as part of your own spiritual support you should keep up on your regular cultus as much as you can to keep your connection with your Holy Powers strong, and for your own wellbeing. There are several books on the subject of spiritual safety and wellbeing; the one I recommend here being Spiritual Protection: A Safety Manual for Energy Workers, Healers, and Psychics by Sophie Reicher.
Examples to Draw From
A Preparation Rite Sample for a Deathwalker:
This is an example of a cleansing, grounding, centering, and shielding ritual.
Begin in as quiet a space as you can. Ideally, this is done in front of your vé, but I do this regularly in the shower before heading off to work as well. If you find a given spiritual technique I have listed here does not work for you try to change the sensory work before switching up the technique. It may be that, for instance, a tree meditation does not work for you visually but may work if you incorporate feeling roots connect to you, bark coming over your skin, and so on. To this end I will list two senses for each technique. Feel free to add music, scents from incense or burnt herbs, and so on as you feel called to. The music I work with most often for preparation rites are Wardruna, Heilung, Danheim, Forndom, and Paleowolf.
I begin each session with a simple prayer to the Holy Powers I worship and who help me in the preparation rite. Since I work with Runes in each part of this I include Runatyr and the Runevaettir specifically.
“Hail Runatýr! Hail Runevaettir! Hail to my Gods and Goddessses! Hail to my Disir! Hail to my Väter! Hail to my Ergi! Hail to my Ancestors all! Hail to my fylgja! Hail to my kinfylgja! Hail to my vörðr! Hail to the vaettir with whom I am aligned! Hail to my landvaettir!” At the end I add the specific names of the places where I have good relationships with the landvaettir, eg my home, work, and so on.
Cleansing with Breath
Take a slow, deep breath, filling your lungs as much as you can, and exhaling. Repeat this up to six or nine times, each breath filling your lungs and exhaling until they are empty, or nearly so. The point is not to hit a trance state, but to feel refreshed. You are taking in önd, letting it circulate, and expelling pollution, negative feelings, any dross from the day, and so on. You can combine this with some ice on the tongue and feeling the cleansing cold on your tongue as you breathe, asking Ice Itself to help you cleanse. If you are sensitive to cold, you could work with a sacred burning herb or incense, calling on the Being to help you.
I tend to start this by working with the Rune Ansuz here. I call on Ansuz first, galdr Ansuz, and then do the breathing technique. Do not forget to make offerings to the Runevaettir at least each week if you do this work with Them.
Cleansing with Fire
Have a candle dedicated to this work; I find seven day candles are really good, as are small chime ones if I need to be on-the-go. If you are staying in a hotel room that does not allow burnables then using a LED candle will work fine, since electricity is a form of Fire.
If this is the first time lighting the candle, ask Fire to consecrate the candle in addition to the usual Fire Prayer I make, which is:
“Hail Sons and Daughters of Muspelheim! Hail Fire Itself! Hail Loki! Hail Glut! Hail Logi! Hail Surt! Hail Sinmora! Hail Eldest Ancestor!”
After this take the candle clockwise and circle it above your head three times clockwise, and then, if it is safe to (which is also why I like using seven-day candles), do the same around your waist, and placing the candle on the floor, rotate both feet one after the other sunwise around the candle. I then make a prayer of thanks as above, using “Thank you!” instead of “Hail!”
If you have had or anticipate an especially rough or draining day combining these two cleansing techniques together is a powerful way to cleanse. Likewise to combining these with a shower or bath.
Grounding with Jörð
This is a powerful connective practice with the Earthmother, and may itself be a ritual on its own.
Begin with a prayer to the Earthmother:
“Hail Jörð, Goddess of the Earth! Earthmother! Miðgarðr Itself! Thank You for allowing me to ground into You, Goddess beneath my feet, and all around me! Hail Jörð!”
Taking your hands and putting them to the ground/Earth, or as close as you can comfortably reach, breath in deep, and on the exhale give a long intonation of the word Miðgarðr. Do this two more times. As you do each intonation, feel the Earthmother take your excess energy, or if you are needing it, giving you the energy you need, and coming into balance within yourself, and with Miðgarðr Itself. A good audio cue for me if I need music during this is something with a lot of deep bass but no vocals. Scent-wise I tend to like those that remind me of a forest, so if you are doing this during a shower or bath having herbs, scents and/or soaps that are oriented towards each stage is a good idea. Once this grounding is complete thank Jörð and continue with the preparation rite.
Grounding as a Tree
By the nature of grounding, let alone existing, we are doing this on/within Jörð, so I make the same prayer as above.
With this grounding work you are tapping into Her, Miðgarðr Itself, and also reaching back to our Ancestors Askr and Embla, whose original forms was that of trees. I would make prayers to Them, and any trees you might work with for this grounding. If visualizing this works better, do this. If feeling the process works better, engage with this way of grounding. Remember to breathe deep and comfortably throughout this work.
Begin by starting with your feet on up through your waist. Your feet, your legs, and your pelvis become roots reaching deep into the ground. Your waist and through to your chest become the trunk of your tree body. Your head, your arms become branches, leaves or needles grow at their ends. Each breath bringing nutrients up into you, nourish you, and your give off breath and nutrients yourself. Then, when you feel a sense of fullness, or visualize yourself in balance with the Earth, the leaves and branches become your head and arms, the trunk becomes your chest and waist, the roots comes up into your feet, legs, and pelvis. The bark becomes skin, the leaves hair and skin. You are fully human in body and hamr. You are grounded.
Centering in the Self
Centering is the act of focusing the will and attention on a given goal. What I mean when I write centering in the self is that our focus is on internal balance, wellbeing, wholeness. To be ready to do the next thing, whatever that is. I generally do deep breathing while doing internal checks to see if I feel energetically off, needing adjustment, and run through my checklist of things I need to do, such as “Did I take my medication?” and “Did I get enough to eat/drink/sleep?” Without a directed focus I work with centering as taking internal inventory on if my needs are met, and from there, to focus on shielding and going about the rest of my day. If visualizing does not work well, deep breaths and verbally talking each point to oneself, and responding yes or no in an even tone can give a good assessment of where one is. This can also give one a good sense if one needs to go back and do more or different forms of cleansing or grounding, or if one is ready for the rest of the preparation rite.
Centering for Work
Working with deep breathing and using visualization and/or verbalizing on next steps, go over the work you will be engaging in. Go over it in general or as much detail as you need. This is a good place to pray for guidance if you have not done so and will need it. Especially for a deathwalking, this is the place where you will want to think about the first steps you will take when going into or setting up the sacred space for the deathwalk. However, do not let yourself be overwhelmed. This is not a spot for anxiety to take over, nor is it one for daydreaming. This is a place where you concretely lay down the first steps you will take once the preparation rite is over and you are ready to do work.
If I have not already done after grounding so I will usually engage working with Gebo here, thanking It and then galdring It, so that I have Gebo firmly in mind with all my work from here on out.
I do not generally make shields as part of my regular preparation rites unless there is a specific need. I felt that I would be remiss if I did not at least go over it though. Shields are a generic term in the Pagan and occult communities for spiritual protection. It can be as complex as a series of integrated visualized shields with a number of qualities (eg this one connected to the Earth, that one to Fire, both connected to with permission) together with charms, amulets, and the like, or as simple as visualizing a shield from Star Trek or Star Wars extending around you. They are highly malleable to the needs of the person. I find integrating as many sensations into a given shield as I can produces the best effects, so if you can integrate all five senses into a shield I would do so.
I do not recommend you ‘anchor’ a shield in yoursself. That is, do not have a shield draw its power from yourself if you can avoid it. If something is trying to get through to you, whether an angry spirit or emotionally charged backlash from a dying person or their family, it can be even more draining to you than just the blow by itself. Working with the landvaettir of your home, your Ancestors, and/or the vaettir of various stones, herbs, charms, and so on helps mitigate your personal energy’s involvement and the mitigates the drain on your energy stores. In part this is why charms, amulets, and other stores of protective magic are so useful. You’re not being tapped to initially empower the object, or to keep it empowered.
To make a shield we will start with a concept and build from there. So, for a general shield, imagine the shape of an egg or sphere, extending down into the Earth as well as above the body, and away from it by at least 2-3 feet. Visualize what it looks like and provide auditory cues by imagining for when it is simply ‘up’ or when it is ‘struck’ or dealing with interference. Perhaps integrating a smell of ozone or burning wire. A bitter taste. The sensation of crawling skin or feeling of ‘no’ when someone/something is trying to get through them. When this is done ‘set’ the shield by tracing its outline around yourself with your hands so no one sensation is fully in charge of the shield. It also keeps it out of the realm of only being something in the head; more of the soul matrix is involved this way.
Once shields are up they will, at the least, accrue background gunk if they aren’t being actively hit by spiritual debris. Cleansing them regularly is as necessary as cleansing ourselves. Like our skin of our lyke, shields are the protection for our hamr (spiritual double/astral body) and the soul matrix in general from external attack/distraction/accidents/mistakes. You can use similar methods as cleanse shields as you cleanse yourself. I often do, and working with Fire as I describe above will likely cleanse everything on you. Sometimes, though, you have to consciously take a shield down to get it fully cleansed. This is doing this work in a warded and/or sacred space is so important: if you need to take down your shields to do the work you have the ability to do so.
Other ways of cleansing shields would be to work with salt and water. Ask Earth and Water Itself, and/or Jörð, Rán and Ægir to bless the salt and water respectively. The salt, being from the Earth, grounds out the energy of the shield and the waters cleanse it. Ground and cleanse the shield you want to work on by flicking the mixture away from yourself.
At this point I may work with the Rune Kenaz given Its affiliation with torches, illumination, and boundaries.
Once shields are put together and can be shown to stand up to pressure, sometimes you will find they need reinforcing. This is where good relationships with various vaettir really helps. Your Ancestors have a vested interest in seeing you live, and working with Them may help the use of heavier or more involved shielding work. However, doing deathwalking is rather powerful and potentially rough work, so heavier/more involved shields may be necessary depending on the situation you are walking into. So what does reinforcing shields look like? Sometimes, going with the example of the basic Star Trek/Star Wars shield, you work to put more power into it. This might mean asking another vaettir for help in reinforcing the shield, or putting up another shield to complement the one(s) you already have. The point is not to walk around armored to the teeth at all times (unless for some reason you need that) but to have adequate shielding to help mitigate the situations you are going to find yourself in.
A Preparation Rite for the Dying
Respect the wishes of a dying person. If they wish to be alone and face death alone, let them. Likewise, if they want the room full of people and for the deathwalk work to be done after they pass, accept this, and do it. Your job is to help them have a good death however they wish to face it. Sometimes just letting someone know that you are there and that together with the Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir you will help them get where they need to go may be comfort enough for them to accept death. This rite is written with the understanding that the person dying has asked for help preparing to die.
The outline of the rite is similar to the daily preparation you should be engaging in as above. The big difference is that this will likely be the last time the person does this alive, and you may need to do all the physical ritual actions for them: cleansing, grounding, centering, and shielding. This is preparation for their deathwalk. Be sure to have all the Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir that they worship and work with in this rite well before you walk into their room. I have written this rite a bit more vague because time may be of the essence, and far better to have a general outline than an exacting ritual so you can modify according to the needs of the dying and the requirements of their Holy Powers, religion, community, etc.
If at any point the person starts to die stop what you are doing and help them through this passage. This is why you walk in as prepared as you can be. Know the tools you have brought. Know your role. Does this person have a current DNR (Do Not Rescuscitate form) or other such vital documents stating they want to die in the case of a medical emergency or are they trying to hold out for a certain person or people to be there? Is there family you should be calling for them that they want present? Prayers for them as they die? Offerings made as they die or after they die? Is there a vigil to be held, and if so, who will hold it, are they prepared to do it, and if no one is available and a vigil is a requirement of their religion are you ready, willing, and able to hold that vigil? If not you, do you have someone available to you and okayed by the dying/their loved ones for a vigil if one is required? All things to think about well ahead of time, having as much available for the service of the Gods, Ancestors, vaettir, and person dying and their family/loved ones.
This is also where a working knowledge of the person’s Holy Powers is quite useful and powerful. If a person was a lifelong devotee to Odin and the person dying wishes to meet with Him in Valhöll then marking the person over the heart with a blade could be a poignant request to Him. At this point you could ask Him, the Valkyries, and the person’s Ancestors in Valhöll to look to them and if Odin wishes the person to join Him, to claim them. Putting a weapon in their hand so they carry it with them into death is also a powerful thing to do for such a devotee. If a person had a lifelong devotion to Frey, a shaft of wheat, an antler, or a boar representation would be a good thing for them to hold, and carry with them through the death rite.
Make any cleansing or prayers you need to in the space before beginning with the dying person. Ideally you would have had time well before now to do your own preparations. If time is short, do the work as well as you can alongside the dying. Sometimes we do not get ideal situations. Cleansing prior to beginning the Preparatory Rite, even if you use the same kind of language, prepares the space for the Holy Powers and clears way if the person does begin to die, making the place holy and ready for any kind of work needed. If there is music that they find comforting or would like a playlist to play during each part, put it on.
Cleansing the Space
Asperge the area with water and salt, or cleanse the area with fire or smoke, making the appropriate prayers with each Being you work with in this initial cleansing. If a vé needs to be set up it would be good to set it up now.
Face the vé with the dying:
“Hail to the Gods of <N>! Hail to the Goddesses of <N>! Hail to the Ancestors! Hail to the vaettir that called <N> friend! Hail to the landvaettir of <N’s> home! We ask you to be here with us, and help us in this rite to prepare <N> for <pronoun> death.”
Make appropriate prayers to the Beings who will help cleanse the dying, for instance saying: “Hail <Being>! Thank you for cleansing us, for preparing us for the work ahead with our Holy Powers!” If the person cannot catch enough breath to do the breathing work here, breathe for them and allow them to be as comfortable as possible. If you work with breath to do cleansing, and they are comfortable with it, passing your cleansed breath over them may be a powerful and connective way of cleansing them. Depending on if they are on oxygen you may not be allowed an open flame; a LED candle will work fine for this, and aromatherapy oils, or a tisane or even tea will work in place of incense.
Depending on the person they may not be in a state to ground using your usual methods. In this case having a bowl of dirt, salt, crystals, or the like on hand for the person to put their hands into/onto is a good idea. If these are not available or feasible to have, or if they want the connection, work with them in grounding with yourself using one of the above methods, or working alongside them with the bowl of Earth-oriented items.
Begin with: “Hail Jörð, Goddess of the Earth! Earthmother! Miðgarðr Itself! Thank You for allowing uss to ground into You, Goddess beneath our feet, and all around us! Hail Jörð!” Place your hands into the bowl, encouraging them to ground, or hand-in-hand, help the person ground.
Breathe deeply three times, encouraging them to do so as well if they are able, and say:
“We are here to prepare ourselves for the last walk: the deathwalk. We face the road before us together, celebrating life as we approach/cross the threshold of death.”
The shielding portion may best be represented for the dying with objects that they can take with them into death, even if they are small representations of the items, such as tokens of a shield, sword, spear, antler, or are Runes, charms, amulets, and talismans.
“We ward ourselves and this space, knowing we are protected and safe as we walk this road together.”
Thanks and Offering
Any Gods, Ancestors, or vaettir called upon for this rite or those to come are thanked for Their Presence and offered to here. Thanking each God, Goddess, Ancestor, and the vaettir you know by name is a good thing to do, as is something to the effect of “Hail to the Holy Powers, named and unnamed, who are with us!” and make an offering of water, sacred herbs such as mugwort, or alcohol.
A Note on Prayers, Offerings, and Rites
Prayers used in this rite, and really any one you are doing, can be as complex and involving ritual actions as is required. The prayers here are supposed to be springboards rather than hard and fast rules. Having a copy of Cesiwr Serith’s A Book of Pagan Prayer, Galina Krasskova’s Modern Guide to Heathenry, Starhawk’s The Pagan Book of Living and Dying, or any of the many devotional books to the Gods that Krasskova, Bibliotecha Alexandrina, Asphodel Press, and others have put out is very useful to have on-hand. If you have trouble coming up with spontaneous prayers or need sources of inspiration for your own, these are good sources to have.
As with prayers, offerings can be quite simple or elaborate as the particular Holy Powers and traditions call for. If all that is available or allowed withing a facility is water, salt, coffee, and the like, then that is far better than nothing. If other offerings are called for post-mortem in such a situation then negotiations with the Holy Powers on the part of the deathwalker may be needed. This can be as simple as a request made in prayer to the Holy Powers, or someone off-site making prayers on behalf of the deathwalker and the dying. To give exhaustive examples would require one, if not several books, and still leave room for more to be said.
The rites many of these aforementioned books describe are good guides for developing rituals that will be useful to deathwalking and a variety of other practices. Again, adapting the rites, but not necesssarily the requirements of those rites, is the responsibility of the deathwalker so that the dying person has a good death and starts off their journey into next World(s) right. Above all else the focus of the deathwalker needs to be in service to the Holy Powers of the dying person and the dying person themselves.
A sample rite for deathwalking the dying:
Engage in the Prepatory Rite
Welcome the God(s) of Dying, Death, and the Dead
If a given person was multitradition it may be on the deathwalker to invite and make offerings to many Gods of Dying, Death, and the Dead. Given this is a Heathen and Northern Tradition Pagan post and most folks are not going to die in combat I have made prayers to Hela.
“Hail Hela, Goddess of the Dead! You, Who welcome the Dead into Your ever-abundant Hall! You, Who offer food, drink, and bed to all who enter Your Hall! Hail Lady of Gracious Hospitality! Thank You for opening the way once again between us and the Ancestors. May the gate be open that the guest may be received! May the gate be open that the Ancestors may receive their own! May these offerings be good Gebo for the gifts You have given us! Hail Hela! Ves ðu heil!”
Welcome the Ancestors
It is good to know as many of the dying’s Ancestors as posssible. Knowing the major names of their family lines will help, especially because personally inviting family to tend to their dying relative can be a healing and powerful experience for the Ancestors involved as well as the dying person themselves. Doing this work also shows reciprocity to the family who has helped the person throughout their life, respect for their loved one, and a continuance of the cycle of respect through the initiation of death. Having one’s own Ancestors helping, with one’s powerful Ancestors acting as intermediary and/or helping the work, can lighten the load on a deathwalker and aid the dying in transition so the deathwalker’s focus is on the dying person and the ritual they are engaged in.
“Hail Disir! Hail Väter! Hail Ergi (or Þver)! Hail to the lines of <N>! Hail <name of line>! Hail to all the Ancestors of <N>, named and unnamed! We ask you to be here, to bear witness and help <N> to join you, O Ancestors. Help them to walk with Death gently, welcome them warmly, and bring comfort to their family, Kindred/Hearth and/or tribe, and the people who loved them. May they walk the Hel-road well and may you meet them at the gate with open arms. Ves ðu heil!”
Welcome the Vaettir
As with Gods and Ancestors it is good to know as many of the vaettir a person works with as possible for similar reasons as knowing the dying person’s Ancestors. This is a good time to offer thanks and worship to the dying’s vaettir, including their fylgja, kinfylgja, and vörðr. Fylgja, (one of the many meanings being ‘follower’), as I use the term, is any vaettr the person had a relationship with whether this is tutelage, initiation, guardianship, or friendship. A kinfyglja then is a vaettr related to them in this way via their Ancestors, whether an Ancestor vaettr Itself or a representative of/to Them such as an animal, messenger, and so on. A vörðr (pl varðir) is the guardian vaettr of a person and would have been following the person throughout their life. This is also the time to offer and pray to the vaettir of the place the dying is in. If they are dying in a facility such as a hospital or hospice, then asking the vaettir of the facility to help the staff be helpful, caring, comforting, and professional is good practice.
There are a number of important factors to think of here regarding the landvaettir whether the person is dying at home or not. Among them there is an old practice of speaking with the húsvaettir or and landvaettir, as in the old tradition of ‘telling the bees‘, which is talking with the bees when an event occurs with the family that shares the land with them. A similar process of worship and offerings to the landvaettir of the dying person should be undertaken by the next of kin of the family. This responsibility may fall to the deathwalker if the family is not part of the traditions of the dying or if there is no one beyond the deathwalker to fulfill them. The vaettir the dying person is leaving behind may Themselves be grieving at their passing, and so, the deathwalker may find themselves in the position of soothing entire groups of vaettir. Inviting the dying’s vaettir to witness their death and passsing on may be as healing and comforting for the dying as it is the vaettir they are leaving behind.
“Hail vaettir! Hail to the fylgja and kinfylgja of <N>! Hail to the vörðr/varðir of <N>! Hail vaettir of <N>, named and unnamed! Be with <N>. Help them to walk with Death gently. Help them to cross the threshold to meet their Ancestors. Help guide, guard, and walk with them once more among those who love them. Help them that they may they walk the Hel-road well, and meet you at the road with open arms. May love and fríð bloom between you. Ves ðu heil!”
Blessing and Preparing the Dying
This part will depend on what options are available to you. If fire is not an option then you can opt for water or ice, as available and appropriate. For this blessing and preparing of the dying person it will look a lot like a cleansing. The prayers, howoever, and the work you do with the different elemental powers will be different. The prayers for the Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir should directly address Them and ask Them for help in the person to die well and with as little pain as possible. These are only example prayers, and they should be changed to reflect a person’s relationship to the Elemental Ancestors, Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir.
For the Elemental Ancestors
“Hail Eldest Ancestor, Fire Itself! Hail Loki! Hail Glut! Hail Logi! Hail Surt! Hail Sinmora! Hail Eldest Ancestor, Fire Itself! Bless this person and shine on the road before them. Let all blocks burn away so the road is clear. Let the light of the Ancestors burn bright in the halls before Them, and may They be welcomed warmly to Their fire. Hail Fire! Ves ðu heil!”
“Hail Elder Ancestor, Ice Itself! Hail Jökull! Hail Snær! Hail Ýmir! Hail Kári! Hail Elder Ancestor, Ice Itself! Bless this person and smooth the road before them. Let the road shine bright and roll well beneath them on their way to the Ancestors. Hail Ice! Ves ðu heil!”
For the Gods -A General Prayer
“Hail <G>! Bless <N> and help them to die. Clear away every obstacle and bless their journey that they may travel on Death’s road well, and to take their place in honor and fríð. Ves ðu heil!”
For the Gods -For a Fulltrui
“Hail <G>, Fulltrui of <N> in whose heart You dwell! Be with <N> as they prepare to take the Last Road in this life. Help take the embers of their life and tenderly keep their flame as they journey into Death. Help soothe their hurts and comfort them. Help them cross into the land of their Ancestors, and from there, to journey safely wherever they are to go. Bless and be with them, O <G>! Ves ðu heil!”
Readying the Dying
These words may be spoken over a person when it is clear they are ready to die, or in conscious preparation for the process. Give time so that anything that the person needs to say is heard clearly by those present.
“Hail <N>! The Gods, Ancestors, vaettir, and your Kindred/Tribe/people are here. If anything lies between you and fríð, let it be removed. If anything needs to be said, let it be said. If anything needs to be passed on, let it be here.” Allow for whatever needs to be said to be said, whatever needs to be done let it be done.
“The Holy Powers and your Kindred/tribe/people are here for you. You are ready for the next journey.” Songs, poems, and prayers that are holy, ask for a good journey, that are comforting to the dying, are thanks to the Holy Powers, or blesssings for the dying are appropriate here. Have a selection of these songs, poems, and prayers available for folks who get emotional, tongue-tied, or need help to get their words out. Helvegen by Wardruna is a song that seems particlarly appropriate here.
Care for the Dead
Once the person has died, care for their lyke, their physical body, should begin as soon as it can be done. At the least the body should be cleaned with clean cloths and water. The people on hand, as with each stage of this work, should be ready to swap out if they are too tired to continue, the deathwalker included. Caring for the Dead’s body is a powerful physical devotion and can be quite intimate, so even if a deathwalker is ready to do the work of cleaning the Dead, they should step aside in favor of a parent, lover, or child. I would say the only time a spiritual specialist should insist on doing anything described here is if a dedicated Heathen or Northern Tradition Pagan is not among those able to care for the dying or Dead according to their tradition(s). Far more important that the desires of the Holy Powers and the dying/Dead are taken care of than to allow an overzealous or uncaring relative, friend, or bystander, to disturb these important rites.
When I first started to write on this patron’s topic I was initially going to just write an 8oo or so word post, and it has gotten far more detailed than I intended. So, I will at least be splitting this up into a two post topic. Again, if you want to submit a topic you would like me to write on for this blog or my Patreon, sign up for the Uruz or Thurisaz level here on my Patreon.
In Part 2 we will look at how to care for the Soul Matrix in dying and deathwalking.