Hel Hath No Fury…
No, I haven’t mispelled the word for the Christian underworld. I am deliberately referencing Loki Laufeyjarson’s daughter, Hel, ruler of the Norse underworld. (Hint: she’s not what the Marvel Universe portrays.)
I’ve just jettisoned myself from an online spiritual community where I’ve felt generally at home for about four years. I even served as a moderator, helped create online events, and edited and did layout design for two issues of its annual publication. But there was this one thing I just couldn’t take anymore.
Let me back up a minute. For the last 35+ years, my life has been extremely constricted due to multiple chemical sensitivity/environmental illness. My ability to access grocery stores, health care, public transport, education, spiritual communities, and social gatherings has been limited due to (mostly) ubiquitious fragrance use in all public spaces. If I come in contact with these airborne pollutants (volatile organic compounds), I get sick. “Sick” may include asthma, fatigue, spaceiness and brain fog, anxiety and panic, and impacts on various organ systems. Some days I bounce back fairly quickly. Others, not so much.
In spite of this, I’ve tried to live a life of meaning, service, creativity, and curiosity. I’ve raised two children, helped to run a family business, volunteered at my kids’ schools, immersed myself in various special interests, loved and lost (big time!), gone back to school earning two degrees and a number of other college units (thank you, remote education!), and written–written my little heart out, actually, throwing my words into a void which seldom responds. I did all this by building in recovery time, masking my symptoms, and pushing through being sick whenever I had to, if I could. I’ve grown used to life on the margins, preferring to experience being marginalized as a kind of liminal space for spiritual exploration and a unique vantage point for socio-cultural critiques.
However the ubiquitous use of fragrance products has denied me equal access to almost all aspects of modern, Western life: professional opportunities (I can’t network at those fancy business breakfasts because someone is inevitably saturated with fragrance! I can’t schmooze at professional sexology conferences, because, ditto!); and employment (I have so many skills, but finding a fragrance-free workplace? Forget about it!). I can’t even anticipate a book tour as a new author (if such things even exist anymore, post-Covid) because contact with the general public can be hazardous to my health. I can vax against Covid, but there’s no vaccination I know of that will halt the impact of toxic chemicals on my body. I know my chronic illness was a source of resentment and frustration in my marriage and it was boring for other partners. And last year, one of my children decided to cut ties with me “forever,” claiming that I am too much work. Damn, but that was cold! And ableist to boot! (Not to mention ageist and unfair. I threw myself into childrearing, body and soul.)
One of the things that has kept me alive–I mean that literally–is connecting with other people through social media and online affinity groups. Just as some disabled people have written that “internet friends are real friends,” so too is internet space “real” space. As such, it can be made accessible and welcoming to people with disabilities and it can become inaccessible and unwelcoming too. That “one thing” that just caused me to exit from my favorite affinity group was the increasing number of group members posting their advertisements for scented candles and other scented products that are made and sold, supposedly, to honor our deities.
To me, it’s like spraying the stuff in a sacred space that I’d hoped to occupy, if only for a little while. My entire body goes into fight or flight mode just seeing the pictures and reading the blithe postings of people who are making and selling these products. So, seeing that Loki-themed “cinnamon pumpkin spice” smelling candle for sale is like a sock in the gut. And I do mean that literally. My enteric nervous system ties itself in knots.
Far be it from me to get in the way of entrepreneurism, however, does this shit have to be EVERYWHERE? All witchy/pagan spaces seem to be chock full of scented candles and oils for sale: all the actual stores, all the online groups, and probably a lot of in-person rituals. Even my favorite online tarot reader always sprays his reading space first with some kind of cologne and I can no longer bear to watch him on a livestream because of this. I watch the recording later so I can fast forward past that part.
And what about the people and pets who have to exist in the polluted spaces created by witchy sorts who profess animism and spirit devotion, but can’t understand that they are HURTING other people and other creatures with this stuff? That these chemicals add to climate change? I’ve read the studies, folks! Peer-reviewed and everything!
I can’t do this anymore. The grief, the anger, the frustration, the sheer, relentless “Cassandra in a Coal Mine” history of all this is overwhelming. And the ongoing, unexamined stupidity of this seldom acknowledged aspect of ecocide makes me want to scream. I just posted a link to the original “My Gods Are Fragrance-Free” on FB and Twitter today, with the comment that I want this piece read at my funeral (not that I’m planning that anytime soon). I’m serious. It’s one of the best things I’ve ever written. And it’s my longest, most heartfelt cry I can make in my marginal wilderness. Please read it.
Thank you and blessed be.
The Post I Wrote in 2019:
What follows is imagined, an eco-parable. Gerda, a Jotun, smells only of rich soil, bruised herbs from her garden, and luscious Jotun pheromones. This was enough to dazzle the Vanir god, Freyr, from afar. His sister, Freya, adorns herself with amber jewels, but cares for her skin only with salves of honey, clear water, and powdered grains. The dry tips of her hair are moistened only with the tiniest bit of melted butter. She scorns the feckless chemistries, the unwise alchemies, of Midgard’s humans, which propel poison into every living thing. Freya has complained to Odin that dead warriors are no longer what they once were–they are now creatures with flacid muscles, except for their texting hands, and that they die now with withered sperm counts, and distortions in their DNA.
Even worse–“They (the humans) are even going after the roots of the World Tree,” she whispers, “with something called ‘Round-Up.'”
Freyr, the Corn God, nods. He dies each year for the harvest and comes back reborn, but it’s becoming apparent that the humans who once honored him for this would now rather manipulate the mysteries of the grain themselves. Perhaps an extended vacation in Vanaheim is in the runes…let the humans spend a year without him for once, prefereably after an Icelandic eruption, when ash clouds herald global famine. That’d learn ’em, he thinks, but in the next moment he backs away from such thoughts. He will serve as he has always served, all these long eons. “Perhaps Ragnarök will be a blessing after all…”
Freyr smells of rich earth too, and Gerda’s herbs and mead, and a not-unpleasant tang of godly sweat and semen. Vanir pheromones are also rather scrumptious, carrying a faint scent of apples. But humans, drunk on designer petrochemicals, can no longer detect them.
As for Ragnarök, Loki has no comment. What will be, will be, and has been–so many times. Contrary to his bad press, Loki finds no happiness in wanton destruction…but cleansing…the metabolism of poisons when all else fails…sometimes that is something to be desired. He should know. The next cycle has already unleashed forces powerful enough to bake the planet, to scour it of the unwise alchemies of the paltry, money-grubbing humans. Midgard will eventually recover (Gaia is strong) but Loki isn’t all that keen to be the trickster god of cockroaches. However, he recognizes the cosmic joke about to be played on them all. He’ll do his best to find some fragment of mirth when the time comes. But onlookers will mistake his battle grin for vengeful joy, misunderstanding the mask that hides his hot, angry tears. It was all so unnecessary! It always is! Meanwhile, cremation fires are at hand for another death of a too beautiful world. It’s Loki’s job to ensure that creation follows cremation. Somebody has to do it…
Sometimes Loki wishes Sigyn had gone in for systems change, rather than holding the bowl for him alone. He imagines he could have borne his suffering–bound with his son’s entrails and scorched by viper spittle–if he’d known she was battling the powers that be, on behalf of all sentient beings. Sigyn might have known better though, and who really is to say? Her victory might yet be won.
It doesn’t take a völva prophecy to know what’s coming. Freya sheds tears. She and her daughter want to save a cat or two. Freya wants the falcons to be okay, and bees. Freyr puts in a word for boars and grains. Dogs too. Their father wants to save whales, sharks, sea turtles, guppies, and coral polyps, among others. His is a long list. Loki would like to send wolves and snakes and salmon and horses to Hel, for safekeeping. Gerda hides seeds in safe places, and waits. The souls of animals are already reluctant, but plants and fungi have not yet given up all hope. Neither has Gerda.
Loki says, “Don’t shoot the messenger (especially if I’m it!). Don’t ignore the voices of doom, of climate change, or the canary in the coal mine. Invite Cassandra onto your podcasts–she’s still got a thing or two to say! Don’t disregard the muttering sibyl, the trancing völva, or anger of witches and Jotuns.” He’d slap this message on t-shirts, even though it’s not a sound bite, in hopes that humans would pay attention, but he distrusts capitalism–particularly the kind that sells toxic petrochemical perfumes wrapped in bottles that look like Marvel Universe characters, especially his!
This last is a particularly painful mockery–big anime eyes and golden horns on keychains are one thing, but this is quite another–all those bottled endocrine disruptors ending up in the salmon, just so a few fans can pretend they have access to “his” scent.
Product of a toxic industry making a mockery of our god, adding yet more petrochemicals to the planet and its creatures, all in the name of money.
Meanwhile the big money laughs and this makes Loki mad. “Stick to cosplay,” he mutters. “Is nothing sacred?” but he already knows the answer to that question. Rather say that nothing is so futile as the sacred, and nothing is more powerful. After all, Loki knows how to stand with two, four, eight legs, or none, in the spaces between all the worlds you could ever name. (Some say that’s why he drinks so much sometimes. He’s so sick of stupid.)
All matter is alive and aware. If we could hear it, all Midgard is screaming at us right now, “Stop it! Go back! You’re hurting us!” The Earth is our hearth. Hearth fires are lit for warmth and nourishment, not destruction. But we have forgotten this. We have forgotten to extend our hospitality (our frith) and our care to all living things. Loki-as-Lóðurr awoke the first humans with his breath, which was clean and alive and full of strength. He warmed us with his breath and gave us fire to warm our hearths. He certainly did not give us a command to go forth and pollute.
I would like to think that human beings still yearn for that first clean breath, that pure air granted to us by a being as old and as vast as a star, and that we’d do anything to get it back. Instead we diddle with gadgets, toys, herbicides, GMOs, scented candles, and guns. We’ve poisoned our Midgard and every living creature in it. Our own bodies now shit microplastics. We’ve inflicted this same diet on animals and plants. Fragrance chemicals are harming aquatic wildlife. Our reproductive systems are drenched in endocrine disruptors (like phthalates) from deli food containers, Round-Up, shampoos, and perfume. Babies are born with birth defects as a result. Our breast milk contains countless contaminants, including an array of self-inflicted consumer toxins from such beauty products as “Loki-Master of Mischief” cologne. Soon plastic golden Marvel Loki horns from the above bottle will find their way to the Pacific Garbage patch, floating among the discarded grocery bags, to be eaten by starving whales who can no longer find enough krill. I don’t think this (below) was the kind of “mischief” Loki had in mind…
Is there any hope at all? Or do I just put another gaudy, food-colored donut on Loki’s altar and sigh, “fuck this shit, Worldbreaker, we’re doomed. Bring it on…”
But Loki will have none of that. He absolutely refuses to let us dodge this wyrd. He says, “Stop buying this crap, especially not in my name. Use your breath for something decent, like saving the planet, while you still can.”
“Do this,” he says without winking, “and maybe you’ll get a whiff of my pheromones…”