Antinous for Everybody

Archive for the tag “hel”

An experiment in devotional astrology

A few years ago I bought a book called MythAstrology by Raven Kaldera of Northern Tradition fame. In it Kaldera explores an intriguing idea. Astrology has always connected the planets with certain gods and the signs with certain myths from the Greek and Roman pantheons. Kaldera combines the two by portraying each planet in each sign as a different deity. For example, the Sun as an astrological planet is associated with Apollo and Helios; in Kaldera’s book, the Sun in Aries is Amon-Ra, the Sun in Taurus is Gaea, the Sun in Gemini is the Dioscuri, and so on. He draws primarily but not exclusively from European pantheons, assigning the Moon in Cancer to Kuan Yin and Mars in Sagittarius to Shango, for example.

Toward the end of last year, I began to consider giving cultus to the deities of my natal chart as per Kaldera’s work. For example, my Sun in Capricorn is Hephaistos, my Moon in Libra Isis, my Mercury in Capricorn in Ptah. I allotted the deities to days of the week according to the planetary system: Sun on Sunday, Moon on Monday, Mars and Pluto on Tuesday, Mercury and Uranus on Wednesday, Jupiter on Thursday, Venus and Neptune on Friday, and Saturn on Saturday.

The outer planets that were unknown before the 19th century have more or less settled into astrology as “higher octaves” of the inner planets. Mars and Pluto both rule processes of disturbance, revelation, destruction; Venus and Neptune both rule values, ideals, experiences of beauty, pleasure, and love. Uranus along with Mercury affects communication, technology, and innovation. I might call them “lower octaves” rather than higher. Where Mercury, Mars, and Venus affect the individual, the slow-going outer planets sound long low notes that set the tone for whole generations in a society. My placement of Neptune in Scorpio, for example, is common to people born between 1957 and 1970, approximately. Kaldera assigns this planet and sign combination to Dionysus. What was Dionysian about that era? Pretty much everything: The civil rights movement that fought social oppression, the experimentation with drugs and altered states, the rise and flourishing of sex drugs and rock’n’roll.

There’s another element that Kaldera didn’t consider (and perhaps he will in a future book or a revised edition): The asteroids. In the latter half of the 20th century, a few of the thousands of asteroids that have been sighted and named in our solar system have worked their way into astrology. Chief among these are the first four asteroids discovered, named after four prominent goddesses: Ceres, Juno, Vesta, and Pallas, along with a fifth asteroid close to the planet Saturn, Chiron. Traditional astrology features only two goddesses, Diana as the Moon and Venus. The Moon is associated with the role of one’s mother in one’s life and Venus with the love object or lust object. The asteroids expanded the symbolic roles of women to include nurturer, partner, priestess, and creator.

Since I’ve been tracking those asteroids in my chart for years, I decided to incorporate them into my devotions and assigned goddesses based on my own sense of their functions. To my Vesta in Cancer, I assigned Sulis Minerva, the goddess worshipped at Bath in England, a deity of fire and water, healing and inspiration. To Ceres in Pisces, I assigned Epona, the Continental Celtic horse goddess who was also worshipped in Rome thanks to her popularity with its legions. To Pallas in Aquarius, which sits smack dab on my Ascendant, I assigned Pallas Athene herself. To Juno in Pisces, I assigned Leukothea, the apotheosized name of Ino, who fostered baby Dionysus and paid for it by losing her own son to Hera’s anger. And to Chiron, known as the wounded healer, I assigned Bran the Blessed, the high king in the Four Branches of the Mabinogi who became an oracular singing head upon his death.

With the exception of Ino/Leukothea, these are all deities with whom I had some prior connection. Sulis, Epona, and Bran I honored in my druidic periods, and Athena was my favorite goddess when I was a child, the high-achieving daddy’s girl with whom I instinctively identified. Leukothea is honored within the Ekklesia Antinoou, so I have some basis for a connection with her.

I still haven’t written prayers to all the deities represented in my natal chart. Seven planets and five asteroids gave me a wealth of material to work with. Some of those deities were personally challenging to me. Kaldera assigns Pluto in Virgo, the placement for people born between 1956 and 1972, to the goddess Hel. I suspect that seeking to learn something about her and compose an appropriate prayer to her led to my writing “A distinguished visitor from the north”, in which she plays an important role.

My Uranus in Virgo is assigned to Lilith, who certainly rose to prominence in the 1960s. Is she goddess or spirit, demon or heroine? Whatever she may be, she has been important in the feminist movement, which my prayer to her reflects. And my Saturn in Pisces is embodied in the complex character of Odin, dominating my first house. In composing my weekly prayer to him, I focused on a point of similarity between the god and myself: We have a tendency to insist on learning things for ourselves, and often on learning it the hard way. There have been times in my life that were the equivalent of hanging from the World Tree, suffering from exposure, waiting for the answer to appear, even if what I needed to learn was nowhere near as significant as the runes.

Finally, there is the planetary assignment that really inspired me to this project: Venus in Aquarius. The usual descriptions of Venus in this sign emphasize its close relationship between romantic love and friendship, its need for an intellectual connection with a lover, and its desire for a bit of rebellion or experimentation, or at least independence. One might say that the biggest turn-on of the Aquarian Venus is equality in a relationship.

Kaldera assigns this Venus to Ganymede, the Trojan boy who was deified because Zeus fell in love with him. He became cup-bearer to the Olympians, in some accounts replacing Hebe in this role. The boy with the cup is directly related to “aquarius”, a masculine Latin noun meaning “water-carrier”. As I read Kaldera’s description of the nature of Aquarian Venus, however, I became convinced that he should have assigned that placement to–of course–Antinous, who is syncretized with Ganymede in some sources, who is associated with the sign and age of Aquarius, and who very much supports egalitarian romance and eros in which friendship plays a major role.

I’ll conclude this entry, then (at last!), by sharing the prayer I wrote for Antinous-Ganymede as patron of Venus in Aquarius:

O Antinous Ganymede,

you bear the cup of friendship

around the halls of the gods,

giving drink to each one equally

as they need: May I give

the drink of love and friendship

to each friend as they need it

and receive the same in return.

FICTION: A distinguished visitor from the north, conclusion

Hel remained in the land of Hades for some time after the birth of Melinoe. Hades found her presence reassuring, and so, very shortly, did Persephone and Hekate. Hades caught up on his backlog of work while Hel and Hekate tended Persephone and the baby. The three goddesses were often talking when he stopped in to visit his wife and child, in that passionate and serious way that some gods (and men) believe goddesses (and women) cannot. Persephone recovered quickly from the difficulty of the birth, thank Ananke, and little Melinoe grew with divine swiftness. As the child thrived and Hades took pains to show his acceptance of her, dandling her on his knee, Persephone seemed more and more pleased by his visits and eager to talk with him.

In little time as mortals reckon it, Melinoe was toddling and babbling, and Hades indulged in taking her into the throne room and showing her off to his servants and subjects. Persephone had not resumed her usual work as yet, but she was quite well enough to dress as befitted her station and appear with her husband and child. Hel had asked several times if they wished her to leave, and they had pleaded sincerely with her to stay, so she was present when the thing happened that Hades and Persephone least expected.

Hermes entered in full rig and saluted the thrones with his staff. “Hail, Hades, you who welcome many! Hail, Persephone, queen of the underworld! Hail, Hekate, triformed, fierce, howling! Hail, Hel, daughter of Loki and Angrboda, mistress of the northern dead!”

Hades handed Melinoe off to Hekate, who led the child out, and rose to acknowledge Hermes with a bow. “Welcome, Argeiphontes, Psychopompos! Do you escort a guest to our palace?”

“I do, dread lord. The daughter of Rhea and Kronos, the sister of Olympian Zeus, the mother of Kore who is called Persephone, most noble Deo, seeks entrance here.”

Persephone gasped aloud. Hades gulped and hoped that no one noticed. “Lead her in that I may give her welcome.”

Hermes exited, restraining his usual speed for dignity’s sake, and returned followed by a tall figure wrapped head to foot in deep violet. Hermes stepped aside, bowing, to let her approach the thrones; only when Persephone began to rise did the goddess stop and uncloak, one hand held out.

“Daughter.” The goddess’s low and resonant voice made the whole throne room ring. She was arrayed in her finest garments, embroidered richly with figures of wheat and poppies, with gold adorning her throat and arms and dangling from her ears. She was far more terrifying to Hades than his odd-eyed, soft-spoken visitor from the north.

Demeter came to the throne, holding out her hands. “The child. Let me see him.”

Hades opened his mouth, but his wife forestalled him. “My child is a daughter and she is mine, not yours.”

Demeter looked, for a fleeting moment, dismayed. “Let me see her, then.”

“Why should I?” Persephone stood up. On the top step of the dais, she was taller than her mother. “Where were you when I cried out in agony? Where were you when I needed help in my pains? I called for you, mother. I needed you. And you didn’t come. Now you want to see my daughter, you want to take her away from me as you took Demophoon away from his mother, you want her heart to belong to you! It’s not going to happen, mother. You have come too late.”

Demeter actually took a step backward. “Kore…”

“That is not my name!”

Now it was Persephone’s voice that made the stone of the great hall throb and ring. For a moment, all stood poised like a great rock on the edge of a cliff: Would it fall and crush everything below it? Just as Hades was about to speak, again, he was forestalled. Hel stepped out of the shadows.

“Give the child to me.”

Everyone stared at the northern goddess. Demeter looked utterly confused; she had not known Hel was there.

“I know what you want, Demeter,” Hel said. She smiled her disconcerting smile. “You want a champion who can overthrow Zeus, as Zeus overthrew Kronos and Kronos Ouranos. You want a chlid of your choosing on the throne of the cosmos, fed at your breast, shaped by your stories. But the time is not yet come.”

She turned to Persephone. “When you are ready to wean the child, lady, let her be fostered with me. I will care for her kindly; I think your husband will vouch for that. She will be hidden, protected… but my gates will be open to your messenger, and to the two of you.”

Persephone looked at Hades. He nodded; Hel must have known, all along…. Persephone reached for Hel’s hands and took them. “Let it be so, then. My midwife, my husband’s trusted friend, you will be my daughter’s foster mother, for as long as there is need.”

Hel bowed over Persephone’s hands and released them. She turned back to Demeter. “Lady of the grain, do you wish to see your daughter’s daughter? Or did you only wish to claim your champion?”

Demeter hesitated before answering. “I would like to see my granddaughter.”

Hel nodded and vanished behind the dais. She returned with Hekate, the two of them leading Melinoe between them.

Demeter stifled a noise. Melinoe was neatly dressed in a little black gown, with white ribbons in her dark hair, and a necklace of garnets that looked, Hades thought, like the pomegranate seeds by which he had wooed Persephone. She walked very well, though she did not speak much yet. The right side of her body remained jet black, and the left side milk white; her wide eyes were a clear and brilliant grey.

Hekate and Hel let go of her hands. Melinoe toddled forward, heading straight for Demeter. She climbed the steps of the dais to stop at Demeter’s feet, small hands clutching at the goddess’ full skirts, and looked up at her grandmother. “Deo,” she said, softly but clearly.

Demeter clapped a hand over her mouth. After a moment, she stooped, sinking down onto the steps to meet the child eye to eye. “Melinoe. You know who I am?”

“Deo,” the child affirmed. “Ya-ya.”

Hades turned away his face as tears spilled down his mother-in-law’s cheeks. “Melinoe,” she answered. “Mikrokoritsi.”

The child wrapped her arms around her grandmother, who embraced her in return. Unnoticed by anyone except perhaps Melinoe, Hel smiled.

FICTION: A distinguished visitor from the north, part eight

The land of Hades was a quiet place, as a rule. Deeper down, in Tartaros, the imprisoned ones raged and howled, but in the fields of asphodel, there was neither weeping nor laughter. Yet it seemed quieter than ever as Hades, clutching the arms of his throne, waited for word of his wife’s labor. His servants kept out of his sight. The dead did not pass before him. He heard the ticking of clocks that had not been invented yet and tried not to hold his breath.

The air–not just the air, but the very walls of the palace, the earth underfoot, and Hades’ ears were rent by a cry of anguish. “Mother!”

He clenched his fists so hard that the eternal black stone crumbled beneath his fingers. Again the cry rang out. “Mother! Mama!” Persephone’s voice, full of unbearable pain. He could not go to her. He must not go to her. No man, not even a god, would trespass on the birthing chamber.

A wordless howl pierced his heart. A deep gasp followed by anguished sobbing. “Mama, mama, mommy–” The word rose into a scream. Hades tore at his robes, his hair to keep from breaking his own holy seat into dust. She would never come. Demeter had made that very clear. She would never enter Hades’ realm. Did she even hear her daughter’s screams? Would she care if she did?

Persephone cried out yet again and Hades half-rose, ready to send someone to beg Demeter to come, in spite of all, ready to go himself and fall at her knees like a supplicant. And then a biting cold wind rushed through the great hall and Hel was standing before him, her mismatched eyes ablaze.

She grasped his wrist with her fingers of bone. “Take me to her.”

He did not allow himself to think; he only obeyed the visiting goddess. Hel burst into the birthing chamber ahead of him, and Hades gagged at the smells of blood and fear. Hekate, her hair undone and her torso bared, was laboring between Persephone’s legs like a wrestler, but her cries were dwindling to weak sobs.

“Stand aside.” Hekate looked up and bared her teeth at the newcomer, but when Hel stepped forward, she moved back. Hel stepped between Persephone’s thighs and laid her hands on the young goddess’ distended belly.

She murmured something that Hades could not make out. Persephone’s panting eased; she twisted with a sudden pang, but her resultant cry was stronger, more focused. Hel glanced from side to side. “You two, hold her up and take her hands.” Hades noted that Hekate also did not hesitate, but obeyed.

Persephone’s head lolled against his shoulder; her hands closed around his and Hekate’s as his hands had closed on the arms of his throne. Hel, her piercing gaze focused downward, stroked her hands over Persephone’s belly, again and again, from her breasts to her pubic mound. Persephone somehow spread her legs wider.

“You are strong,” Hel said. “You must bear this child. You can do it.”

“No,” Persephone whimpered. Hel untied her apron, unlaced her gown; glimpses of naked bone and putrid-pale flesh showed as she bent over the birthing goddess.

“Let it go. Let go. Let the child go. Let it happen.” Hel raised her hands and made a gesture, saying something under her breath in her own tongue. “Let her be what she is.”

Persephone arched, twisted, and made a noise that was more like a roar than a scream. Then she went completely limp against Hades and Hekate as Hel, crooning softly, caught the child that finally emerged.

Hades eased Persephone down onto the bed. Hekate began wiping her face with a wet cloth, but Hades turned to Hel. She had wrapped the child in her shawl and was… laughing over it.

When he approached, she wiped the child’s face gently with the shawl and tilted the small bundle so he could see. A tiny, beautiful, radiant face, black as coal on one side, white as snow on the other. Divided down the middle like her midwife, Hel.

“Where… where…?”

“She is here, lady Persephone, and she is well.” Hel carried the child to its mother and laid it in the crook of Persephone’s arm. “She needs only her mother’s milk and her father’s love.” She looked at Hades, who sat down beside his wife.

“Can you put her to your breast, my dear one?” With shaking hands he helped her adjust the infant, who soon began nursing strongly. Persephone gave a soft groan, yet followed it with a smile.

“She is hungry. I might be, too, in a little while. Would you like to name her, husband?” She opened her eyes just for a moment to smile at Hades.

He looked at the child, half dark, half bright, nestled against his wife’s full breast. “Let us call her Melinoe.”

(To be concluded tomorrow in part nine!)

Sacred Nights: Panthea 2015

Today I sing and celebrate
the vision which the Taliban fear;
today I invoke and praise
the assembly that makes Daesh
boil with rage;
today I proclaim the truth
that makes woman-hating politicians
tremble and clutch at their genitals
and take money away from Planned Parenthood.
Today is Panthea, and today I hymn
the goddesses: All the goddesses, united
in fierce feminine friendship,
in divine power and might,
in divine knowledge and wisdom,
in divine anger, laughter, and love.
Isis, Hathor, Nephthys, Mut,
Qadesh, Erekshkigal, Inanna, Ishtar,
Juno, Minerva, Venus, Flora,
Pomona, Diana, Ceres, Libera,
Demeter and Persephone,
Hera and Hebe,
Artemis, Athena, Aphrodite, Ananke,
Tara, Sarasvati, Parvati, Shakti,
Rosmerta, Rhiannon, Epona, Brigantia,
Morrigan, Aine, Dana, Coventina,
Freya and Frigga and Iduna and Hel,
Sif, Sigyn, Skadi, and Scathach,
the Norns, the Fates, the Parcae, the Furies,
all the goddesses, everywhere, known
and unknown, remembered and forgotten,
kind or unkind, lovely or vile: I sing your praise,
and my god Antinous sings with me:
Dua! Khairete! Avete! Laudo!
The goddesses are alive,
and they are everywhere.

A distinguished visitor, part four

She had a habit of asking unsettling questions just before she departed. Nevertheless, Hades found himself looking forward to Hel’s visits, to slow walks with her in the gardens, to her calm face and flat voice and those offhand probing questions.

On one of their circuits about the land of shadows, they crossed paths with Hekate and her retinue. Hades halted the horses to greet the triformed goddess; she approached the chariot and bowed.

“Hail, lord Hades. Hail, Hel, divided goddess, lady of the northern dead.”

“Hail, Hekate, triformed goddess, lady of the torches.” And Hel made a little bow.

Hades was struck by the formality of their exchange; he and Hekate were comrades of old. He did not think anything more about it, however, until Hel had left and he received another unexpected visitor, namely, Hekate.

“Does she come here often?” She had a habit of putting her hands on her hips when she was talking to him that he hoped Persephone never came to imitate.

“Who?”

“You know who. The northern goddess.”

“Often? Well, I don’t know that I would say often–”

“What does she want?”

“Want? I don’t know. To bear me company. To have company, I suppose.”

“She has company at home, surely.” Hekate folded her arms across her chest, which was worse than hands on hips. “And you have a wife.”

“What are you implying, Brimo? Do you think I would cheat on Persephone?”

Hekate glared at him for a long moment without answering. Then she breathed out in a huff. “No, I don’t. But I know you well. Others who don’t know you might be misled by appearances, and they might spread gossp that could get back to the girl, and hurt her.”

Hades had not considered this. He rather prided himself on not looking beyond his own bedroom, now that he was properly married. (Unlike some people he could name.) He was also struck that Hekate still referred to his wife as “the girl”. There was something girlish about Hel, actually, that in some way reminded him of Persephone.

“You know I don’t want to hurt Persephone. That is the last thing I would want to do. But I also don’t want to fail in hospitality to a foreign deity, and a ruler of the dead, at that, someone who’s in the same profession as I am. And I think Hel and I have become–friends.”

Hekate sighed, and her faithful hound wandered in and leaned against her legs. “I divine that Hel has some ulterior motive for visiting you, something she hasn’t revealed, but I cannot divine what that is, yet.” She laid a hand on Hades’ arm. “If you have any doubts, if anything doesn’t seem right, will you speak to me, let me know?”

“I will do that. I swear.” The room seemed to quiver around them. He had not named the sacred river by which the gods swore their oaths, but they were so near to it as made little difference.

Hekate left to pursue her own affairs. Hades made it rain in the gardens and walked in the rain for a long time.

A distinguished visitor, part three

Hades did not try to answer the question then, as Hel inclined her head to him and then turned to limp out of his throne room. Nor did he answer it the next time she visited him, and they drove his chariot through the various regions of his realm, talking of their mutual concern with the dead. He was surprised by Hel, again, when he learned that it was her personal concern to feed and clothe all of the dead, to gather those who would come into her hall for a nightly banquet, and in general to be much more personally involved with the shades than he had ever been.

“My people are fewer in number,” she said, with that strange smile that exposed all her teeth for a moment. “The inhabitants of the north are fewer than those of the southern lands, and those who die in battle are taken by Odin or Freya to dwell in their halls, in Asgard.”

“We have places of higher honor here as well, but all in my domain, except for the Isles of the Blessed, and few indeed merit to go there.”

“And you have places of lower honor, too, do you not?” She accepted his hand and stepped down from the chariot, stopping to watch as servants came to unharness his horses and lead them away. “What you call Tartaros?”

“Yes. The prison of the earlier gods who did not wish Zeus to take the throne of heaven.” It was growing easier to match his stride to her unabashed limp. “Not that we created it; the pit of Tartaros existed before the Titans or our father Kronos.”

“Kronos himself was a Titan, was he not?”

“He was. He and his brothers turned against their father Ouranos and killed him.”

“As your brother Zeus subsequently turned against him.” The goddess lowered herself into a chair in the small audience chamber where he had led her.

“Indeed. May I summon food or drink for you, lady?”

“Just water, guardian of Tartaros.” There was, of course, a pitcher of fresh water on a nearby table–two pitchers, in fact, one on a tray with cups for drinking, the other by a basin and a stack of towels, for washing. Persephone was rather fastidious about the dust of the underworld.

Hel drained off the cup Hades poured her and turned it in her hands. It was plain, unfigured, but perfectly smooth, satisfying to the hand. “I am a Titaness, you know.”

Hades sat down with his own cup of water. “I did not know that, no.”

“In our language, it is Jotun, Jotnar. The word is closer to your word ‘gigantes’ in meaning, but it amounts to the same thing. My father Loki and his people were gods in the north before the Aesir or the Vanir came along. The Allfather of the Aesir put me into Hel as your brother put some of the Titans into Tartaros. He thought he would be safer if I were locked up. He did not realize until too late that he had not locked me in; rather, he had locked himself out.” She smiled again, widely; Hades would not have admitted it, but even he found her half-flesh, half-bone smile–disturbing.

“Are you locked in, lord Hades? Or is your brother Zeus locked out?”

(Part two Part one)

A distinguished visitor, part two

“I am surprised to see you here, so far from your own lands, lady.”

Hel shrugged a bony shoulder. “I have good and trustworthy servants who will keep my domain for me while I am away. And I do not often roam.” She looked around the dim and rather dusty throne room, then back to him. “Nor do you, I think.”

“No. I am not everywhere welcome.”

“Yet you ventured forth to seize a bride.” She shifted, clasping her mismatched hands around equally mismatched knees. “I confess I was baffled when I heard that a lord of the underworld desired a wife.”

He had heard that the gods of the north and their people were subtle and keen. He had also heard that they were shamelessly blunt and forthright. This goddess who was neither alive nor dead, who seemed neither a maiden nor a wife nor mother, appeared to be blunt, yet perhaps she was more subtle than he could guess.

Wrong-footed, baffled by his guest, Hades told the truth. “My brother Zeus, lord of the gods, importuned me to wed her. And I was… lonely, and so I yielded.”

“What were lord Kronion’s reasons for wanting you to wed the daughter of Demeter?”

In truth, Hades had asked himself that over and over again. He did not for an instant believe that Zeus wanted him to be *happy*. He had believed, until he was disillusioned, that Demeter desired a match for her daughter and that he was, as mortals said, a good prospect. He was the lord of wealth, the shepherd of the shades, the guardian of the seal upon Tartaros. He made quite a respectable son-in-law, for a mother who wished to see her daughter wed.

Demeter, apparently, had not wished so.

He had not given himself the chance to question how his marriage benefited Zeus and Zeus’s rule. And while Zeus was always generous, he gave no gift without an advantage to himself.

Again Hades found himself telling his unexpected visitor the truth. “I do not know. But there must be some benefit to him in this arrangement.”

Hel nodded slowly. “I have no partner, lord Hades. I rule alone and uncontested. I could perhaps steal myself a husband and bend him to my will, unwomanly though that would seem.” A faint glimmer of mirth lightened her rasping whisper. But I am not lonely. And you, a wedded lord, are lonely.” Pressing her hands upon her knees like an old woman, Hel got to her feet, followed by Hades.

“I will take my leave of you now, lord of the cypress groves. I hope I may call upon you again.”

“Please do,” Hades said, and was astonished to hear genuine desire in his voice.

“Then I shall leave you with one question, lord Hades. When she is not by your side, where is your wife?”

FICTION: A distinguished visitor from the north

I am posting this with some trepidation. It is:

  • a completely unedited first draft
  • of the opening scene
  • of a story I just conceived of this evening
  • which may or may not be continued.

But it was written as part of my 31 Days of Fiction, so here it is.


Hades will point out, if given the opportunity, that he is not the god of death. He does not kill or take life; that job belongs to Thanatos. Admittedly, Thanatos works for him, but that was not always the case.

He is also, technically, not the god of the dead. He is, technically, the god of the underworld. He’s the lord of the place where the dead mostly end up, but it didn’t have to happen that way. Actually, he is the brother who drew the short straw and got the job nobody wanted, with the awkward two-pronged sceptre. He’s rather embarrassed, nowadays, by cartoons of “the devil” and his “pitchfork”.

Hades and his brother Poseidon have this in common with one another, and not with their big brother Zeus: A god should stay in the office. If somebody looks for you where you are supposed to be in charge, they should be able to find you there. Poseidon, therefore, tends to stay in the oceans, and Hades stays in the underworld. Poseidon comes to visit Hades not infrequently; they are both concerned with the drilling for oil that has obsessed the mortals for a little while now. But Hades rarely leaves his domain. He realized a long time ago that most of his fellow immortals did not consider him good company. He is not a party sort of god.

And so he is often lonely during those months when his wife Persephone visits her mother and her mother’s relatives. He used to become what they now call a workaholic during those months. Being the lord of the underworld and the host of the dead requires a good deal of work, especially when one has become accustomed to sharing the load with one’s spouse and then the spouse takes a three-month vacation. But when arrangements are made, they can be hard to change, especially when they involve mothers-in-law. And so Persephone leaves, and Hades tries to keep busy.

The first time Hermes announced her arrival, he was surprised. Hades does not surprise easily. Hermes himself looked a bit surprised, despite being dressed in his grey psychopomp outfit with the waterproof boots. “You have a distinguished visitor, lord of the shadows. A goddess from the far north.”

Hades shifted on his throne. “A visiting goddess? From the north?” He frowned at Hermes. Hermes spread out his hands. “Well then, guide of souls, show her in.”

As soon as she entered the throne room, Hades recognized her. He had heard tales, of course, as no doubt she had heard of him. She walked with her chin lifted, limping steadily along as if Hermes was not by her side, ready to offer his arm. Hades stood up to greet her, in respect for one who was not only a goddess, but a guardian of the dead like himself.

“Greetings, your ladyship, guardian of the northern dead.”

She cocked her head at him, turning her good eye toward as might a bird that had been blinded on one side. He had no doubt, however, that her empty eye socket saw just as well as the piercing dark eye still set in flesh.

“Hades. I thought you could use some company.”

Her voice was soft, a raspy whisper that seemed to form just inside one’s ear rather than crossing a space between bodies. It made him feel… ticklish.

“I take it you do not stand on ceremony, Lady Hel.”

The right side of her mouth joined the left in its perpetual smile. “Nor sit upon it, lord of wealth. May I take a seat?”

He nodded, and before he could summon a servant or lead her to a more private chamber, she limped forward and dropped gracelessly to the steps of his throne. Not knowing what else to do, Hades sat down beside her.

The goddess Hel resembled a young woman of serious mien, pale-skinned, with long black hair, thick and straight, dressed in simple clothes of black, grey, and white. Thus the right side of her body. The left side of her body was as an exposed skeleton, fleshless and scoured white, with patches of scruffy hair clinging to the bare skull. Her gown and apron draped over breast and bone equally; she clasped her hands casually in her lap.

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