Standing at the gateway to the Norse-Germanic underworld, Goddess Hel reminded me to live in the fullness of every day by stepping into its abundant miracles.
The Irish believe yellow butterflies to be an indicator of the peaceful transition of departed souls. And in Christian tradition yellow butterflies are symbolic of the Christ’s resurrection from death. They are also regarded as a sign of the presence of angels. Would Hel’s dark waters ultimately leave me with a message of hope?
Hel’s pond is located in the Templehof area of Berlin, which is so named due to its historical association with the Knights Templar. It is a small remnant of what used to be a vast lake surrounded by acres of forest. The murky pond is believed to be the entrance to the underworld and is rumored to have been a place of human sacrifice.
The waters of the pond did seem dark, cold and menacing on the day of my visit in mid-April, but I was soon reminded of its power to regenerate and give birth to new life. All around the pond I found the early signs of spring bursting forth in the blues and yellows of the season’s first wild flowers. It was my intention to visit Hel’s Pond on a previous trip to Europe, but my schedule made it impossible.
Standing now at the gateway to the Nordic Netherworld, I understood why Hela chose for me to pay my respects at this time, and not sooner. My previous visit to Berlin was during the height of the summer season. That time of the year would not have conveyed her mythical significance as profoundly as these frosty first days of springtime.
She looks down on necromancy and other forms of magic used to “bother the Dead”, although she will allow seidhr-workers (Old Norse term for a type of Nordic sorcery) and others who respect her boundaries to enter a special area close to Hel’s Gate, and speak with what Dead wish to come to them.”
At first glance Goddess Hel seems evil and menacing, but her symbolism speaks profoundly of the human condition of impermanence and ephemerality, and her true character reveals deep transpersonal compassion. She is a favorite with artists and traditionally her physical appearance is depicted as blue-grey corpse, or skeleton, on one side of her body, and sensual, beautiful woman on the other… vertically split down the middle. Hela reminds us of the eternal cycles of life, and that death is omnipresent, yet transient. It is not something evil or fearful, but a natural part of our spiritual journey. For this reason she embodies at once both living beauty and rotting flesh.
It seems profoundly appropriate that Hel’s sacred pond is located in the heart of Berlin, because to me she epitomizes the essence of Berlin: the intense dualistic nature of this world city and its dark and enchanting history… right down to its former division by a brick wall. She embodies both Eros (life, love, sexuality) and Thanatos (death, violence, destruction). One of my German friends told me Berlin’s former mayor, Klaus Wowereit, once said, “Berlin ist arm, aber sexy!” Berlin is poor, but sexy. Indeed, she is, just like the Goddess Hela.
The Dark Night of the Soul is a powerful pathway to rebirth and enlightenment. She commands us to not settle for bitterness, self-pity or resentment during times of trial and tribulation. Embrace instead the Divine miracle of your path to greater awareness and understanding. Acknowledge your growing empathy for others and validate and cherish those people who stand by you, for better or worse. There is always much light at the end of every tunnel of life, and someday soon you too shall find that silver lining. Without the contrast created by loss, disappointment or suffering, it is unlikely that we will ever truly treasure the real blessings in our lives.
Goddess Hel also reminds us that nothing lasts forever, that life as we know it is fleeting and impermanent. And although there is life beyond this life, we must live in the fullness of today and its abundant miracles. Hela is known as a no-nonsense deity who has little patience with cowards who waste away their empty lives procrastinating, whining and complaining. Life is after all for the living! It is our duty to make the most of it, instead of merely waiting for the end to come. There is absolutely no worse death curse than the humdrum daily existence of the living dead.
The Bull of Hel by Paul Mersmann is more commonly known as the “largest ox of Berlin”. The enormous sculpture constructed with Rüdersdorfer limestone is nine meters long and seven meters in height. It was erected in the early 1930s by unemployed Berlin sculptors according to Mersmann’s design. Legend has it that a secret cartridge was placed inside the sculpture containing an appeal against Hitler signed by the builders.
© 2015 Anthon St. Maarten