Hella, Lady of the Dead
photos by C. Pennington, except where noted
Hella is the Norse Goddess of the Underworld. Odin “gave her authority over nine worlds, such that she has to administer board and lodging to those sent to her, and that is those who die of sickness or old age.” She is the daughter the Giantess Angrboda and one of three children of the trickster God Loki. She is said to be half black, half white, half live, and half dead. Some say the division is at her waist, other say it divides her down the middle. To many she is a terrifying figure of a shadowy land, but to most Norse, she was simple the Lady of Helheim (her hall) who kept them safe after death. For me Hella is silence and patience. She knows that in the end, everyone comes through Hel to see her. Early in my work with Hella I began including the title “Lady of Icebergs and Shadows” in her invocations. I don’t remember the exact genesis, but I was looking for photos that felt right, and stumbled across some of icebergs and glaciers. And I realized that they are white with black – shadows for icebergs and dirt/soil for glaciers. Icebergs are also the big slow things of time. They are patient, just like her. While shadows fall into the category of needed things that not everyone wants or understands.
The base doll for Hella is a Robert Tonner “Basic Sweet heart” from the Alice in Wonderland Collection. I thought that the nearly white hair and sharp lines of her face worked well for Hella’s austere grace.
Her bone arm and leg are from an anatomy doll that just happened to be the right scale to match hers. I have to say, breaking off her “real” leg and arm was a bit traumatic for me, but once it was done, I could see what was needed and started sculpting the connections and layering on the elements of her “dead” side.
All of her ribs are sculpted of paper clay and then her whole body was given a paint job over several days to try and convey the negative space between bones on the solid form of the remaining doll body.
The other fascinating thing for me was the red line down her middle. I have seen an number of Hella clergy do their liturgical robes in this style – the black and white balanced along the vertical line, with a line of red as the seem between the two. It was not until I was finishing Hella’s paint work that I finally understood that this was the blood and muscles grappling with only existing on one half of her body. Once I got that awareness, the red line became a requirement, and completed the paint work for the body.
photo by J. Morgan