Heathen’s Journey | Diving into the shadows with Hagalaz

Heathen’s Journey | Diving into the shadows with Hagalaz

Hagall er kaldakorn
Hail is cold grain
Ok krapadrifa
And driving sleet
Ok snaka sott
And sickness of serpents
– Icelandic Rune Poem

  A vision: a figure crouches on the path, attempting to shield themselves from the hail as it falls all around and on top of them. The world seems to shift, to tilt, beneath them. Their pack is still on their back, their walking stick within reach, and still they crouch, unable to move. They can’t see the road in front of them, it’s all a blur of ice and storm.   The figure can’t look forward, they can only look back the way they came.   

Hagalaz represents dramatic, often catastrophic, changes.   

It also represents a beginning.   

It has taken a while for me to have the brain space to put the runes into words. It’s been difficult for me to return to this series, particularly because I’ve been going through a lot of transitions. These have been dramatic changes – most of them expected (moving in with my partner), but some of them have been unexpected. One of the major changes was definitely an influence of Hagalaz: I needed to abruptly leave my job as a housecleaner because my body absolutely broke down.  

So I see you, Hagalaz, I see that you are not one to be trifled with.  

It’s a harsh awakening, considering how the runes have treated us so far.  

This is the first rune of the second aett in the futhark. The first aett includes Fehu (abundance), Uruz (strength), Thurisaz (protection), Ansuz (communication), Raidho (way forward), Kenaz (knowledge), Gebo (gift giving), and Wunjo (wishes). I like to think of the first aett as covering the basics and then discovering your purpose.   

Fehu through Ansuz really represent the bare minimum of things you need to feel secure. When undertaking a deep spiritual journey, like moving through the runes, you need to start from a secure base. Something that can bring you back to the tangible world.   

The next runes, Raidho through Wunjo, are the ones that help you define your desires and goals. They light the path you need to walk, understand your destination.   

Honestly, out of all the runes in the first aett, only Thurisaz hints at the trouble to come. But this is a Norse system of wisdom we’re talking about, and the Norse can be a very bleak people indeed. So the second aett starts not with hope, but with hail.  

It feels as though this is another sort of initiation: if you’ve been doing spiritual work for some time, you come to a point where it’s no longer about feel-good wisdom to get you through the day. Our spiritual journeys force us to confront the darker aspects of ourselves, to wrestle with our trauma and our purpose. This isn’t light stuff – and Hagalaz, the hail, is the wake-up call to this deeper, more difficult spiritual work.   

Freya Aswynn connects a specific rune to each of the nine realms of Yggdrasil, starting with Hagalaz. She relates Hagalaz to the realm of Hel, the underworld, the realm of the dishonorable or unremarkable dead. The Norse were obsessed with honor, valor, goodness. That honor is often challenged violently.   

There’s also an interesting push and pull in the culture between fitting in and making a name for yourself. Hagalaz represents some of that tension, but in particular the regrets that we have when we haven’t lived honorably. Hagalaz shows us the ways that we’ve fucked up.   

This is the perfect rune to use as an entry way to shadow work. 

Photo by Chandler Cruttenden on Unsplash

The rune is a harbinger of both death and rebirth. In this way, I would associate it with the zodiac sign of Scorpio, with the Tower. I often read Hagalaz the same way I read the Tower.   

Honestly, The Tower is one of my favorite cards in the Tarot. It represents the destruction of false foundations, it destroys what you know so that you can build something different in its place. Harnessing the energy of the Tower is incredibly important in leftist circles, particularly as we work to break down the foundations of white male supremacy, heteronormativity, and capitalism. For many (especially white) people, this process will be distinctly uncomfortable. We have to see our privilege, understand it, and consciously choose discomfort to create a different kind of world. 

Where the Tower is a wrecking ball, crashing in without ceremony to raze our bullshit to the ground, Hagalaz forces you to sit with it, to really see it, and gives you the opportunity to choose something different. Hagalaz forces us to confront our past – especially actions that we are not proud of.   
Norse mythic cycles are always hurtling toward destruction and regrowth. Throughout the Eddas Odin’s motivation springs largely from his knowledge that Ragnarok is coming, the end of the world is coming, and he knows that the Gods need to be prepared. The world of the gods is always hurtling toward the final confrontation of their hubris. The gods dishonor themselves and one another repeatedly throughout the mythic cycle.   

Loki is banished in large part because he pisses off the gods – he shows them their hypocrisy. In the Eddic poem Loki’s Quarrel (Lokasenna), Loki isn’t invited to a feast. He shows up anyway, compels Odin to give him a seat at the table, and insults each of the gods in turn. One important thing to note is that Loki treats the gods as if they are human – and also that each of the insults he gives has a foundation in reality, so the gods don’t have a rebuttal. It is after this scene that the gods finally decide to imprison him, and this is his motivation for leading the enemy ship Naglfar in battle against the Aesir.   

I retell this myth now because it serves to warn: if you are not willing to look at your own faults, at your hubris, you are in danger of hurtling toward your own destruction. The gods need to fall in Ragnarok in order to be rebirthed, to get that second chance, to learn from their mistakes. Hagalaz is the destruction that paves the way. This is why it comes so early in the heathen’s journey – you need your foundation to be shaken. 

I do recommend pathworking with each rune, but be careful.   

As I’ve been writing this essay, dwelling in the energy of Hagalaz, I’ve experienced some dramatic changes to my life. I learned that I can no longer physically do my job as a housecleaner, and so I had to leave suddenly. But if I’d stayed, I would have done much worse damage to my body. This change is forcing me to evaluate my options. It hurts like hell, but ultimately it’s a necessary change. The synchronicity is not lost on me.   

Approach Hagalaz with a plan. As I’ve been going thorugh this mess, I’ve been embracing Hagalaz at the same time that I’m pathworking Fehu and Uruz – abundance and strength. Use Hagalaz to clear away that which doesn’t serve you, and return to Fehu and the runes of the first aett to replenish your stores. 

My Personal Correspondences for Hagalaz: 

Anything representing snow or hail
A mirror
Cedar + Copal incense
Bones
Smoky Quartz
Black Tourmaline
Wolfsbane (poisonous do not consume)
A black candle + a white candle

Journal Prompts for Hagalaz: 

What am I holding that I need to release?

What is my greatest fault? Where did I learn these behaviors? 

What does appropriate self-protection look like, and how might I be stifling my own growth by being overly self-protective?

What would happen if I lost everything? How would I build my life back?

Take care with these journal prompts. This is meant to be a brutal but honest look at your life, but you may not be ready. Only you can know that, but I can tell you that shadow work is worth it, even if it hurts like hell. Go gentle into this energy, fellow heathen.

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