Today, the 29th of September, is sacred to several warrior leaders, who stood as the example of fierce virtues and loyalty to lord; Heimdall was celebrated in the Norse tradition, and Gwynn ap Nud, the Celtic lord of the Underworld, in the Gaelic. Both represent warriors, and guardians at the borders of where two distinct realities met, and as such are excellent models not just for warriors, but for all those who strive to see and dwell in realms beyond this one.
Heimdall is the perfect guardian; the son of nine beautiful Jotun mothers, possessed of hearing and sight so keen he could watch all of Midgard, the mortal realm, at once, and hear wool growing on the backs of sheep, he is the watchman at Bifrost, the rainbow bridge that linked Asgard, the home of the Gods, to Midgard. He represents the most steadfast of warriors, being captain of the warriors in Valhalla, and the implacable foe of Loki, standing against the treachery and deceit of the eternal trickster with unflagging honesty and courage. Heimdall was associated with rams, and may also have been associated with the sun. Gwynn is a variant of the winter, also seen as the Holly King, who endlessly battles his counterpart Gwythr over his sister Creiddylad, the maiden of spring. He is black faced, the grim soldier who stands eternal watch; the hill of Glastonbury Tor is sacred to him, the gateway by which the properly initiated might pass through. In later years, anxious to supersede the pagan ways, the Catholics would make this the feat day of St. Michael, the warrior angel. Heimdall and Gwynn are reminders that borders are dangerous places, where one’s perceptions may change in an instant, but they are places with great potential for growth and wisdom, provided you are brave enough, strong enough, or lucky enough to cross over and make it back.
Tomorrow is the beginning of the Celtic Tree month of Gort, the month of Ivy; part and parcel of the month is the acceptance of death, for it comes closer with every beat of its wings as Samhain approaches, as the barrier between their world and ours thins, so we must prepare. Ivy is sometimes called a symbol of resurrection, but that is a bad translation of a more complex concept. It is illustrated in the old myth of Tristan and Isolde, whose tragic love rivals that of Lancelot and Guinevere; when the two die and are buried apart by a spiteful lord, ivy plants grow from their graves, creeping and twisting over the ground until they unite. The life after death that the ivy promises is not that of resurrection, it is in fact the promise that what was important to you, what you fought and perhaps died for, will live on after you. Heimdall is destined to fall at Ragnarok, as all his kin in the Aesir are, as he and the hated Loki slay each other, but he knew that the bravery, ritual, and pride of the gods would not be forgotten as long as mortal men venerated them and used them as examples of the right way to live. That is the “ivy” of Heimdall’s story, not resurrection, but the survival of his legend, so that others might be inspired down the ages.
No one, not god or mortal, lives forever; we must strive to make for ourselves something, in work, in art, in children, something that does not pass away, but endures. This month, think well upon your death, whether it come soon or late, and think about what will be left behind when you die. As Odin proclaimed, “Cattle die and kinsmen die, and so one dies oneself, but a noble name will never die, if fair renown one gets.”