firekeeper & völva

When I went to my first traditional sweatlodge, I wore a red bandana to keep the anticipated sweat out of my eyes. I quickly learned that only firekeepers wear a red bandana, so I had to take it off. This week here at EcoDharma I have taken on the job of lighting the small stovepipe stove in the meditation yurt each morning.

Even though it’s nearly May, we’re pretty high up & this morning there was frost on the ground, plus everyone is sitting stock still in silent meditation so it’s helpful to have a small, central fire to take the chill off the air.

This seems like a particularly fitting job to be asked to do the week of my birthday. I’m a whole lot of warrioress fire (astrologically), as anyone knows who’s lived with me or taken classes with me. I burn bright & long, before I burn out. And, yes, this has been my lifelong tendency–to burn mySelf out. You’re never too old to learn, I reckon. So these last few days of the sun in the first fire sign of Aries, I’ve been learning how to start, & also sustain, a fire.

Which makes me think of the word I came across when researching for a short screenplay I wrote last October–amadou, also known as tinder-fungus for its use in starting slow-burning fires. This screenplay poured out of me, or perhaps I would more accurately say it poured through me. It was a coming together of many things, not least my recent exposure to Iceland. Because I was under the impression it would actually be produced, & quickly, there was nothing stopping it from coming. As it turned out, it wasn’t produced & the dynamic around that deep disappointment & relationship strife was another learning opportunity… I’ve since debated about what to do with it. Perhaps I’ll include it here, as a story for you, dear reader…

The reason this word amadou came to mind today was because I thought of how easy we have it now. Versus nomadic people & how incredibly valuable fire was/is to them in the places & times before electric, gas, water, wind, &/or solar power. Fire was how they survived. Without fire they would freeze & starve. So the firekeeper who kept the embers alight as s/he travelled to the next encampment held a huge responsibility for the entire clan. Imagine.

It is said that the firekeepers for the sweatlodge must build the fire in such a good way that it can be lit with one match, or not be lit at all! All the healing of all those gathered depends on the skills of the firekeepers, not just to light it, but to keep it burning correctly so the stones heat with minimal cracking & the length of the lodge can be reached. And here I am feeling the pressure from my little task this week to light this wee stovepipe stove in the dark, in time for the air to warm, without filling the yurt with smoke, & with enough wood to last the 90 minutes everyone sits in blanketed silence. So I can only imagine what it must be like to hold the embers alive over the many miles all-your-people travel. I admit I use more than one match, but I’m aiming–by week’s end–to get it down to just 1, if I can. These are the skills I relish learning these days & the skills I would have loved to have learned decades ago. Never too late, I say.

What is fire anyway? The fire of life that we could not live without. The fire of the sun that makes life on this planet possible at all. The fires of all life–of the plants we eat (or if you eat animals, that they eat & then you eat). And let’s not forget the fires of passion.

Passion & action come easily to some & feel more foreign to others. As I said, fire comes easily to me. I’m all about action. You have a dream, let’s DO it! Nike’s slogan was created by someone like me, I’m guessing. Someone is feeling down, my first words are, “Anything I can do?” Which is partly why I think of myself as more masculine (if I’m going to play with those gender generalizations at all, that is), because my first response is to solve the seeming-problem. I have to consciously work at being patient enough to simply be present for the person, & listen.

I tend to burn mySelf out–& also burn others out–with my zeal. I also, in a mundane, everyday way, tend to burn food. I do best when I have many, many things to make & do in the kitchen. Give me a feast to fashion & I’m your gal. That way I can be like an octopus with a tentacle in 6 or 7 different pots at once, fully occupied. Otherwise, I get distracted, leave the fire burning & come back to smoke & char.

There’s so much learning in this life. My mom has turned me on to Kaypacha Lescher, who I think of as “the Jack Nicholson of Astrology”. He cracks me up with his accent, his phrases, his seemingly-stoned demeanor & giggling. His latest post for this week has this mantra in it:

“Life is an education,
Drawing ME out of me,
And the more I am able to deal with,
The more I will set myself free.”

(It’s a lot of astrology jargon for those unfamiliar, but I was startled to hear him reference this time as the snake shedding its skin, which made me feel right on track, & you might find some gems in that post of his.)

So many times I have felt that ME, my fire, burns too brightly for folks. They’ve tried to dowse me, put me out, shut me up, quieten me down. It’s no wonder the majority of film & theatre roles I’ve played have been demons, killers, mad women, & larger-than-life archetypes. When people hear I was in The Hobbit, they assume I played an Elf. Nope. I was an Orc. In Avatar, I must have been a Na’vi. Nope, I was on the bad guy side. Yup, I was never destined to play the gentle ingenue. Not with all this fire powa. However, I can be gentle. I can be timid. I can be tender & also tenderized by life’s vicissitudes & humanity’s violences. And sometimes I do get dowsed by the down-ness of it all & my fire seems to be out.

Those are the times I’ve come to rely on the other firekeepers in the tribe.

This past year has been a tough one. (You’ve probably noticed we’re in tough times. Times they are a-changin’ dramatically & we’ve entered Stage Right just in time to play out the climactic denouement of the show.) My partner broke with me on my birthday last year, via skype, with no clear reason other than he realized he didn’t love me. That hurt & my poor mom, who I was visiting, had to watch me feel the pain of that. I am constantly amazed by the power of mothers to love their children as much, or more, than life itself & yet have to stand aside & allow their children to grow through whatever challenges arise. She has all-ways been my biggest fan. Literally, she has been the one who has fanned my flames back alight. For her, I am forever grateful.

I also feel fortunate that I have words to weave my learnings into. Some folks have movement. Some have music, some commerce, some medicine, some meditation. For me, words have been my go-to since I wrote my first poem about age 7 after we returned from the ashram.

This past year, though, about 6 months after the hurt, anger & disbelief from this break, but also from the wider realization of how the world has been breaking apart & revealing its shadows more & more, this vision came through me.

Of course, the protagonist is me & I had thought I would get to act out this role on film. I thought I would create for myself a truer, more nuanced role than that of ingenue, bitch, or foil to play off ‘the man’, which are the usual acting roles women have to choose from. And I love how the word for one who has visions–who sees what has been, what is & what will be–how that word from Old Norse into Modern Icelandic sounds like part of the female anatomy. Völva.

It’s also true, though, that the Modern Woman protagonist is so very, very many people these days, whatever your gender identification. I know there are lots of adjustments being made to our understandings of gender, but in the traditional sense of that-which-is-feminine, I have all-ways felt a sense of championing–of empowering & protecting–the female. But whatever way you know yourSelf, if this piece below resonates for you, I can only say that there IS a way. There is all-ways a way. And the more we stand together, as we grow individually, the more we support one another in not only surviving, but thriving & enlivening the journey of carrying the embers of the much-needed fire into the next encampment. Know who your firekeepers & völvas are, for it is they who will aid you in seeing in the dark & staying lit.


UpRising, or Re-Völva

24 Sept 2016, version 2

Transmute poison into potion, darkness into light, lead into gold.

7 pages, 7 minutes, 7 chakras


Nearing sunset, fog. Then flame.

The sun turns black / Sól tér sortna, 

earth sinks in the sea / sígr fold í mar, 

The hot stars down / hverfa af himni 

from heaven are whirled / heiðar stjörnur, 

(Völuspá verse 57)

We hear the verse, but Modern Woman does not. To her it could be the wind, the water, sounding.

She wears a jade amulet, but is otherwise unkempt and hopeless, dead inside.

With bare feet and arms she seems fragile, vulnerable.

She hauls a cement block into a boat and launches the boat out into the currents of the water.

She gets wet as she clambers in, but clearly doesn’t care.

Once the boat is adrift, she ties the block tightly to her ankle.

She sits and stares, feeling alone in the world.

Yet there are ancestors all about her—in the water, on the shoreline, and in the woods—

only she cannot see them. Not because of the fog/steam rising off the water, but because she cannot see the beauty and

brilliance of what she is and what is visible all around her, so she cannot see what is beyond the visible.

What gives rise to the visible is not yet real to her.

Fierce grows the steam / geisar eimi

and the life-feeding flame / við aldrnara, 

Till fire leaps high / leikr hár hiti 

about heaven itself / við himin sjálfan. 

(verse 57 continued)

She looks at her hands, her arms and her legs, as though from a great distance—

as though she has already left this body and it’s not hers—while she smokes her last cigarette.

Close-up view of her amulet.

She tosses the lit match into the river, which turns into flame, as a result of fracking.

Startled out of her suicide to save herself, she pulls back from the fire,

gets the boat to shore and tries to flee, but finds she’s still anchored to the cement block.


Green of all growing things.

Now Garm howls loud / Geyr nú garmr mjök 

before Gnipahellir / fyr Gnipahelli, 

The fetters will burst / festr mun slitna, 

and the wolf run free / en freki renna;

(verse 58)

In panic, as the fire moves across the water towards her,

she manages to free herself and takes off, at speed, into the forest.

Running as though pursued, as though running away from,

which becomes running towards, she rises up in her stride.

Breathing again—coming alive through legs working, lungs working,

her fearful heart becomes bold, enlivened heart.

There is a sense of shedding time as she moves through the forest.

She is becoming part of the world again with each step—like “the wolf run free.”

Ancestors are visible and she starts to think she sees something, but only in glimpses,

as part of her fear, but then as spur to her path.

Until she exhausts herself and collapses

onto the earth, into the earth—is enveloped in it, embraced by it.

Soothed and strengthened simultaneously.


Sound restores strength.

Her breathing becomes crying which turns into wailing, into keening—

a more rhythmical and confident expression of sorrow—

then it becomes song.

The fetter on her foot was burst, and now the vocal, emotional, psychological fetters also burst.

Her voice is freed like an animal that has no self-consciousness.

Before now she would have thought she was crazy and any observer might think the same,

but instead it’s clear she is channeling

as the ancestors that appear are giving her these sounds. They are sounding through her.

Her sound becomes a rhythmic song, a plea, an anthem,

as she begins to beat in time to it on the earth,

Völva, the seeress, is called up from her grave.

The setting sun shoots through the trees,

creating a halo behind the risen Völva and momentarily blinding the Modern Woman.

Ancestors become more visible and also more audible.

An ash I know / Ask veit ek standa,

Yggdrasil its name / heitir Yggdrasill

With water / white hár baðmr,

is the great tree wet / ausinn hvíta auri;

Thence come the dews / þaðan koma döggvar

that fall in the dales / þærs í dala falla;

Green by Urth’s well / stendr æ yfir grœnn

does it ever grow. / Urðar brunni.

(verse 19)

Are these words now coming from Völva, from all the ancestors, or is all-the-world speaking?

Her own breathing has aligned with the rhythm of the verse.

Modern Woman is stunned, initially frightened by this presence.

This is something she could not have believed-in before now. But now she cannot deny it.

She is calmed and compelled by it all.


Clear seeing creates the confidence to act.

night sets in, moon comes out, lighting is other-worldly

Völva speaks—that the way of the world as it is now must die and a new world be born

A hall I saw, far from the sun / Sal sá hon standa sólu fjarri

On Nastrond it stands / Náströndu á,

and the doors face north / norðr horfa dyrr;

Venom drops / falla eitrdropar

through the smoke-vent down / inn um ljóra,

For around the walls / sá er undinn salr

do serpents wind. / orma hryggjum.

(verse 38)

I saw there wading / Sá hon þar vaða

through rivers wild / þunga strauma

Treacherous men / menn meinsvara

and murderers too, / ok morðvarga

And workers of ill / ok þann er annars

with the wives of men; / glepr eyrarúnu;

There Nithhogg sucked / þar saug Niðhöggr

the blood of the slain, / nái framgengna,

And the wolf tore men; / sleit vargr vera.

would you know yet more? / Vituð ér enn – eða hvat?

(verse 39)

This last line is clearly a question Modern Woman must answer.

She is afraid, yet nods.

Völva continues.

The giantess old in Ironwood sat, / Austr sat in aldna í Járnviði

In the east, / and bore ok fæddi

the brood of Fenrir; / þar Fenris kindir;

Among these one in monster’s guise / verðr af þeim öllum einna nokkurr

Was soon to steal the sun from the sky. / tungls tjúgari í trölls hami.

(verse 40)

There feeds he full on the flesh of the dead, / Fyllisk fjörvi feigra manna,

And the home of the gods he reddens with gore; / rýðr ragna sjöt rauðum dreyra;

Dark grows the sun, and in summer soon / svört verða sólskin um sumur eftir,

Come mighty storms: / veðr öll válynd.

would you know yet more? / Vituð ér enn – eða hvat?

(verse 41)

Modern Woman nods, manages to stand, and then moves forward, as though to walk through Völva.


Transcendence of personality.

Modern Woman merges with Ancestral Woman/Völva and is given her instruments to wield—

wand, drum, seeds, amadou, armband. She realizes she needs to give something and so she removes and offers her jade amulet

to Völva who only smiles and folds the Woman’s fingers back over it instead.

(Woman will come to know that it is meant to return to Source, to the waters.)

Thence come the maidens / Þaðan koma meyjar

mighty in wisdom, / margs vitandi

Three from the dwelling / þrjár, ór þeim sal

down ‘neath the tree; / er und þolli stendr;

Urth is one named, / Urð hétu eina,

Verthandi the next, / aðra Verðandi,

On the wood they scored, / skáru á skíði,

and Skuld the third. / Skuld ina þriðju;

Laws they made there, / þær lög lögðu,

and life allotted / þær líf kuru

To the sons of men, / alda börnum,

and set their fates. / örlög seggja.

(verse 20)

On all sides saw I / Sá hon valkyrjur

Valkyries assemble, / vítt of komnar,

Ready to ride / görvar at ríða

to the ranks of the gods; / til Goðþjóðar;

Skuld bore the shield, / Skuld helt skildi,

and Skogul rode next, / en Skögul önnur,

Guth, Hild, Gondul, / Gunnr, Hildr, Göndul

and Geirskogul. / ok Geirskögul.

Of Herjan’s maidens / Nú eru talðar

the list have ye heard, / nönnur Herjans,

Valkyries ready / görvar at ríða

to ride o’er the earth. / grund valkyrjur.

(verse 30)

Now Garm howls loud  / Geyr nú garmr mjök 

before Gnipahellir / fyr Gnipahelli, 

The fetters will burst, / festr mun slitna, 

and the wolf run free; / en freki renna;

Much do I know, and more can see / fjölð veit ek fræða,

Of the fate of the gods, / fram sé ek lengra

the mighty in fight. / um ragna rök römm sigtíva.

(verse 58)


Fertilized to grow from victim to victor.

As she walks from the forest into the field and towards the water, Woman throws seeds down from her pouch.

From each planting of seeds a woman emerges, naked or nearly so. One by one, out of the landscape, women spring up

like flowers. Each woman picks her bleeding heart up off the ground, lifts it to her bare chest, leaving a mark of blood,

then holds it aloft,

blood running down her arm.

Each seedling-woman is accompanied by an ancestor, a guide, human or animal.

Woman’s voice and Völva’s have merged. The story is the same, but more modern in sound now.

Brother kills brother,

Sons betray their kin:

Axe-age, sword-age,

Wind-age, wolf-age.

Water spirits dance

As destiny burns.

A ship comes from the East

Bearing agents of death,

Sun blackens, Earth crumbles,

Stars tumble from heaven,

Fire laps the Ash,

Flames lick the sky.

Another green Earth

Will rise from the sea.

I see eagles over fells,

Sporting for fish.

Crops will grow unseeded;

Ills healed, Baldr returns

The black dragon flies,

Over dark-of-moon hills,

Bearing corpses to Hel.

Where I must go too.


Blood of my body, blood of the earth—taking responsibility for the water within and without.

At the water’s edge, Woman drums as they all face the rising sun.

The black dragon rises up from the depths of the water and looms,

as though to strike them all down.

Woman recognizes the sacrifice that must be made and the relationship that must be established.

She hands off her drum, takes off her amulet, steps into the water calmly, without fear.

She tosses the amulet into the dragon’s mouth.

The amulet transforms into the suicidal form of the woman, a corpse of who she was, held in the dragon’s teeth.

As the dragon takes in the medicine of the amulet, it turns from black to green and then softens down into the waters.

The dragon’s back becomes a new earth. Eagles fly above.


And also a beginning. It’s a cycle, a spiralic cycle like an eagle riding a thermal. If you’ve done MYOGA Seasons with me, you will have noticed the structure of this piece is aligned with where we step in at Manipura/First Summer & roll through to Svadisthana/Brightest Spring, as a way of entering the spiral. Again, if this struck a chord in you, I’d love to hear from you. And PLEASE, be mindful of what has come through me here. While we can wax philosophical about how nothing new is ever created, this particular alignment of images-through-words is something that I have written down. Part of the trauma last October was that portions of the story felt like they were taken, instead of it being understood & allowed to come-to-be in their entirety, as I’d written it, & with me actively involved in the production. So I trust that if you wish to make this into a film, you’ll do me the honor of including me in my own story, yes?

Here’s a great musical version of the Voluspá & an introduction to the greater cyclical meaning it holds. It’s lovely to hear this language & its epic, other-worldly quality…

Please feel free to follow, like & share!

2 thoughts on “firekeeper & völva”

  1. I went to my first sweat lodge 30 years ago and now at 60 it is appropriate to call myself a Völva for the first time. It is wise to be respectful to traditions of nature. Völva is a path that brings the very rare to their knees and then crawling on the ground, and then deaths to survive. (not metaphorically, not near death, but real deaths) There is much work to do, keep strong sister of the moon, heal your issues, heal your karma as they arise from healing your issues deeper and deeper, and if you are blessed with hell itself to overcome all without doctors or medicine or plants… then maybe one day you can call yourself a Völva and it is marked on all the souls that have returned that you have lost for lifetimes.

    1. Thank you so much Phoenix the Elder for reading me & writing in. I appreciate hearing from you & I will be in touch elsewhere as I feel your presence has answered a call I’ve been putting out for greater guidance in these realms. I fully agree that calling oneself anything like a shaman, seer, Völva, or healer is tricky business & that respect is often missing as these realms open to more & more interest. Which is partly why I’ve taken a sabbatical from teaching yoga–I’m really not sure what my place is in a world that has become so much an industry…

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