Hel, the Hidden Home Within the World
McCoy : What more is there than the universe, Spock?
Commander Willard Decker: Other dimensions. Higher levels of being.
Commander Spock: The existence of which cannot be proven logically. Therefore, V'Ger is incapable of believing in them.
Captain James T. Kirk: What it needs in order to evolve... is a human quality. Our capacity to leap beyond logic.
I remember quite well watching this scene over again with my best friend, and he always found great significance in it, a certainty that indeed there were higher levels of being "the existence of which cannot be proven logically".
These higher levels of being exist beyond the manifest world of the Tree and at its root, by the wells. This is the realm of Hel, the Hidden ("Hel", from PIE *kel- "to cover, conceal, hide, save") that exists within and through every manifest being, but which cannot be seen by the eyes nor measured with devices.
I feel almost as if my friend is speaking to me now through these words of Spock, Decker, Kirk, McCoy. My eyes cannot see him. Logic cannot prove he is still here with us. What is needed is the "capacity to leap beyond logic".
I return to that moment, the two of us watching this, rewinding it, discoursing about it as only we did, two philosophers in an often-dark world. The intensity of the feeling : yes! This speaks truth! It resonates. It may not be subject to proof, but it speaks to some deep well in the heart.
Hel is the hidden, life-beyond-the-manifest concealed in the heart of all matter. The underworld is infraworld : beneath and within all world, soul of flesh, significance behind action, doors opened in dreams and reverie. The secret then? There is no death, "death" is a dead word. There is only life, evolving and evolving and evolving, as it involutes into the heart of things. The Christian ear may cringe at the sound, but we say : In Hel there is Salvation and Life.
My trek (or, rather, one of my many) : to believe in my friend, to feel him, even though his wondrous flesh through which a thousand conversations spoke is now ashes. You can locate the ashes, but can you find him? He is at the heart of the world ; that is what "hel" means.
The Christians confused us ; Snorri took up this confusion and gave Loki's daughter the name of that blessed place now turned by the Christians into their place of torture. Ours was called Niflhel ; if Leikn was ever called Hela, it was a shortening, a contraction : 'Hela, for Niflhela, of which she was the ironic queen, watching over the composting of the monsters by her dread spirits of disease. The true Queen of Hel is Urd, and her brother Mimir the King, called Nidhad. The truth is, only monsters die, for only they die the second death, past the gates of Niflhel. Those we call dead drink the living waters, precious fluids, and live deeply within all that is, a bliss our poets painted as the Hall of Ancestors, the great Plains of Bliss surrounding Urd's Well.
In Book One of his History of the Danes, Saxo tells us of a time when the hero Hading took an incredible journey :
Credo diis infernalibus ita destinantibus, ut in ea loca vivus adduceretur, quae morienti petenda fuerant, "I believe the Gods of Hel therefore arranged to lead him alive to that place he must reach for when dead." Saxo is about to give us a precious vision of how our ancestors saw the afterlife. Primum igitur vapidae cuiusdam caliginis nubilum penetrantes perque callem diuturnis adesum meatibus incedentes quosdam praetextatos amictosque ostro proceres conspicantur; quibus praeteritis loca demum aprica subeunt, quae delata ...gramina... "First, therefore, they penetrated through a rank, cloudy gloom, and advanced along a rough road worn down through long passage, where they observed youthful nobles and chieftains clothed in purple garments, who passed them by; and at length arrived in sunny regions which bore grass and herbs."
In Hrafnagaldur Óðins 9, Heimdall is sent with Bragi and Loki to inquire of Gjallar sunnu gátt, either "The Engenderer of Gjallar's Sun", or "The One Who Stands by the Gates of Gjallar's Sun". As Gjallar-brú is the name of the bridge leading into Hel, it is obvious that the Sun passes through these parts as well, and thus this part of the underworld has nothing Nifl, "cloudy, dark, gloomy" about it, but is, as Saxo attests, aprica, "sunny".
Loca aprica quae delata gramina, "Sunny fields of grass and herbs", alongside which praetextatos amictosque ostro proceres, "youthful nobles and chieftains dressed in purple robes" sauntered. There along the glittering plains of bliss walk ancestors restored to youth and nobility.
Nearby these Loca aprica are, as is revealed in Thorkill's adventure to the Underworld in Book Eight of Saxo, collaudatis horti sui deliciis, "gardens of pleasure praised for their delights and charms" filled with fructuum gratia, "favorable fruits and crops", or even, "fruits of friendship and kindness".
Both Hading and Thorkill also view the places of punishment, which can be reviewed at another time, but what is important to note here is that these make up only a small part of the underworld.
Elsewhere ancestors restored to youth and nobility saunter along sunny fields of grass and herbs near which lie gardens of pleasure praised for their delights and charms filled with the fruits of friendship and kindness. Holy Hel.
These places are not without their adventures and entertainments, either, for apparently the Einheriar visit from Valholl from time to time to stage tremendous tournaments for the delight, excitement, and edification of their relatives in Hel, as is adduced by Hading's journey just beyond the Sunny Fields, Quo pertransito binas acies mutuis viribus concurrere contemplantur, quarum condicionem a femina percontante Hadingo: 'Ii sunt', inquit, 'qui ferro in necem acti cladis suae speciem continuo protestantur exemplo praesentique spectaculo praeteritae vitae facinus aemulantur', "where they passed by two battles-lines of mutual strength and resources which they observed engaged in combat, which situation Hading inquired of the female (apparently his fylgia who guides him on this journey), she answering, "Whomever dies by the sword, the exploits and chronicles of his defeat are constantly testified to in a marvelous show which serves as example, and presents a theatre of the deeds of his past life in a great spectacle.""
And so our ancestors envisioned Hel as sunny fields and gardens of delight where noble ancestors were reinvigorated and passed their time in pleasant journeys, from time to time enjoying fantastic tournaments whereby the trained Einherjar would rehearse their great deeds of battle. Hel, Home of Bliss and Adventure.
These higher levels of being -- or let us call them deeper levels of being -- cannot be seen except with the eyes of poetry, and then through beautiful metaphor. The metaphors grasp them surely but vaguely, for they lie far beyond any fable. Yet the fables' beauty bespeaks something true about the experiences. How do I know? I do not know with the knowledge of proof. Their existence cannot be proven logically. I know with the intuitive feelings of wisdom, the draughts of which give us the capacity to leap beyond logic. Cleave to the fables, then, for their poetry is powerful, their beauty entrancing and truthful, but know, the beauty and wonder of which they speak goes far beyond the power any human brain has to form images. We see the shadows playing on the cave walls. The light itself is dazzling.
all translations copyright 2009 by Siegfried Goodfellow