Ask and you shall receive. I had asked for a vision. I had been told, some months previous, of a “past life”. The seer said I was walking through a village, which she believed to be in the Viking age. I was dressed as a peasant, carrying a basket past open fires, past small stone and mud dwellings with thatched roofs. As she spoke, my mind’s eye followed and I had a glimpse of the basket I was carrying. It was shallow, round-ish and had handles, like a tray.
In the basket were a few scattered items. There were two stones, one small round and white, the other rough and large and dark. There were several bundles of plant matter and a leather pouch. That was all I saw. I was intrigued by this experience. I had never been told of a past life before and I had always been drawn to the Norse gods and the Viking stories. I am a priestess of Odin and I had a practice at the time of going into trance and communing with deity during my workouts.
Odin is believed, by some, to have at one time been a mortal king – a hero of such merit that generations later, he was elevated to the level of deity. So I was working out on an elyptical, eyes closed, having a conversation with Odin. He was encouraging me, pushing me on. He said, “You have warrior blood in you… perhaps you even have my DNA. I was human once, you know.” This reminded me of the past life story. I asked him to show me something from that life. He stared at me for a moment, then asked, “Are you sure?” I understood that the risk was mine, that what I was about to see might be unpleasant or even traumatic. I took a deep breath, leveled a gaze at that cool gray eye. When you look right at Odin, you want your expression to be determined, confident. I said, “Show me.”
And I was gone. My body continued moving on the machine, but suddenly, my BEING was still and in a darkened room. I looked down. I was holding a basket, shaped like a tray. I saw the items from my previous glimpse and then the items faded away and I heard Odin’s voice. “No, not then, earlier.” And the basked was empty. I became aware that I was tasked with collecting those items for the basket. I put on a woolen cloak and ducked out through the doorway, which was a flap of fabric or leather covering the opening. Cold air hit my face and the almost complete darkness of the hovel was replaced by a different kind of darkness. Bright stars shone down from the clear blue velvet sky. A hint of purple light in the east confirmed it was very early morning. To my left was a great tree, dark buds forming at the ends of the enormous branches. It was springtime. I turned away from the great tree to see, on the other side of the dwelling, the edge of a thick and vast forest. I stepped to the side of the hut and picked up a yoke with two buckets and hefted it to my shoulders. Head down in resignation, I started towards the forest. I could feel a tremendous heaviness in my heart, a deep sadness.
Just inside the tree line I began to examine the brush, seeking a particular plant. I bent to harvest one, and a voice (this was my mother, gone now) said, “No, not that one. Look at the leaves.” Then “Over there.” And even though this voice came without hands to point or body to motion, I knew that “over there” meant further ahead and to the left. I looked, and there was the plant I needed. I harvested that, and put it in my basket. I continued on a narrow path picking a plant now and again. A feeling of sorrow hung so thickly over me. And self-pity, that too. I moved slowly, lethargically. Soon I noticed that the plants were easier to see and, startled, I looked up at the brightening sky. Now there was an urgency. Something in my mind was saying, “the River! I have to get there before the sun…” So I ran. I ran with the basket, with the yolk and when I found my rhythm I ran fast and for what seemed a very long time. Finally, I arrived at the river. I checked the eastern horizon and was relieved to find that the sun had not crested the hill yet.
I bent to fill the water buckets with the cold running water, being careful not to wet my clothing. I searched the shore, then, for a stone. I picked up and discarded several seemingly identical small, white, smooth river stones until I found the perfect one, white, luminous, almost translucent, and put that in my basket. There was a glint of bright yellow on the horizon and suddenly I understood the urgency of getting to the river at sunrise. This part of the river was lit up by the rays of the sun and I searched for another stone. I feared I wouldn’t find one and then a large, stepped-edge rock glowed red in the sunshine and I picked it up. Without the sun, it just looked black. Garnet. I placed it in the basket and headed back to the village. The yolk was much heavier now with the water and my shoulders slumped. Looking at the ground, feeling the weight of the yolk like the powerful responsibility before me, I trudged the long path through the forest.
When I arrived at the edge of the clearing, I looked up and my eyes fell instantly on that great tree. There was a form at the base of it, which I now recognized as a body. All at once came the realization that I had collected these items to prepare that body for funerary rites. All at once, came the understanding that the body under the tree was that of my mother and that this job, the midwife of the dead, was hers, and now mine with her passing. And my own mother would be the subject of my first solo ritual. A steady stream of tears ran down my cheeks and I thought over and over, “Too young! Too young!” Both she and me! Even as my thoughts raged, “I can’t do this! It’s too hard! I’m barely more than a child!”, yet my feet continued walking towards the tree and the body. I knelt down before her, carefully setting the buckets and the basket down and removing the yoke from my shoulders. And free of the burden of many pounds of wood and water, those shoulders still slumped. For the weight of this task was heavier still. I gazed upon the still face of my mother. Her features were delicate and pale. She had blonde hair and high cheekbones. To me she was beautiful. I took some of the herbs from the basket and placed them in the first bucket. From under my apron, I pulled a clean cloth and moistened it in the fragranced water. When I turned back to wash the body, the face was that of my daughter in this life. I do believe we travel in “soul groups” or “soul families” and I knew that she and I had a past. And although this was not a great shock, it renewed the pain of what I was about to do and I began to cry more openly. So I began to wash her, with the water and with my tears, reverently, lovingly, the way I had been instructed. I was to pour the pure water over her forehead, her heart, her genital area and her feet. She was so cold. And when I came to her feet, I grasped them and rubbed them one last time, as I did in her life, on nights when she finally sat by the fire at the end of a long and tiring day. Her final tiring day was done, so I did this for her one last time. It was not a part of the ritual I’d been taught, but this was my mother (daughter) and I loved her. There was a coil of pale, gauzy cloth next to her. The next task was to wrap her body in the material. I began the process at her feet. It was full light by now, and I became aware that I was not alone. I looked up to see my sister, my older sister, and again I was flooded with understanding (and emotion). There was the strangest sensation of inner dialogue between me in my present life and me in that distant life, which seemed to occur in just an instant, but conveyed so much information. “Why, if she is older, am I the one to inherit this responsibility?” (resentment) – “She was sickly as a child, no one believed she would live, so you (we) were trained.” (love) “She is our greatest friend.”
I looked at the face of my sister and it WAS my greatest friend in my present life, my twin soul, Maria. We’ve come to know that we have shared many lives together.
Coming back to the task at hand I realized that my sister was looking at me with love and compassion and concern and quiet strength. She watched from a respectful distance as I continued wrapping. When I had wound the fabric to her chest, I hesitated and stared at a necklace she was wearing. It was a large piece of amber hanging from a leather cord. My sister’s voice soft but firm said, “You must take the necklace off before finishing.” I couldn’t tell if she thought I forgot how this was done or if she was simply helping me past my immobility, but it worked. I untied the cord and held the amber piece in my hand. (Small hands, shaking hands) I lifted it to her, hesitantly and she stepped back as if frightened and shook her head. “It’s yours now, put it on.” There was love in her voice, but also a cold strength. Now I began to sob, as I held my mother’s treasure to my face, I rocked and sobbed and consecrated it with my tears. My sister allowed this for a short while and then said, “Ilsa, the time. Finish.”
I pushed on. The wrapping task was physically demanding. I had to lift her from time to time to get the fabric underneath her body. I was small and not very strong. My sister didn’t help, though she saw me struggling She couldn’t help. It wasn’t her place. It was mine and I had to complete this task.
Once again my sister spoke. I was sewing the wrappings to cover her. She said, “Settle yourself! And hurry! They’re coming.” It was then that I realized that I was still crying. I stopped abruptly and picked up the dampened cloth, the one with which I had washed my mother’s (daughter’s) lifeless body, and washed my face. There was some magic in it. I felt better and the tears stopped. I finished my task quickly, then gathered the stones and the rest of the herbs in a leather pouch. I stood up just in time to greet the procession heading towards the tree. I handed the pouch to the man leading.
He looked at me kindly and with great sadness. I had to make a stone of my face and breathe deeply to avoid falling back into my sobs. Some of the processors had a stretcher made of tree limbs and leather. They gently lifted my mother and placed on it. As I turned to take my place in the procession, my sister stood before me with a staff. This was our mother’s, now mine. It was a long solid piece of wood, with a metal spiral at the top. I took it and walked with the group towards what type of funeral (burial, burning?) I know not. For there, my vision ended.