[This issue, we are joined by author Imelda Almqvist. Here she discusses her Norse practices; her children’s book, The Green Bear; her adult books, Medicine of the Imagination and Natural Born Shamans; and her upcoming projects.]
ev0ke: How do you define your personal spiritual practice? Does it have a name, or is it more intuitive and eclectic?
Imelda Almqvist: Yes, my personal spiritual practice does have a name: Old Norse Traditions and Seiðr. I was brought up in a devout Roman Catholic family in the Netherlands. My earliest spiritual training consisted of assisting the priest as an “altar girl.” I learned a lot about ceremony, prayer and the power of sacred objects. When I was fourteen my family made a big trip to Norway. It felt like coming home on the level of soul. I told everyone I was going to marry a man from Norway and live there!
At age nineteen I met a Swede, who is now my husband and the father of my three children. On my first visit to Stockholm the Norse gods grabbed me in a way that was quite shocking: it was physical, visceral, and a spiritual revelation, all at the same time. Decades on, my husband still jokes that things went “off track”, as he was supposed to have been Norwegian! Even though I clocked up years of training with teachers of core shamanism (for practical reasons such as location and scheduling, because of the childcare required), my heart has always belonged to the Northern European and Nordic (even Arctic) material.
In 2016 we bought a house in the forest in Sweden, in a very remote location near the Baltic Sea. I turned one building into a school and now (pandemic restrictions allowing) I bring other people home to this land and the ancestral wisdom teachings of Northern Europe. My students commonly say: “On your land I heard the ancestors sing in my blood for the first time – and I have done a lot of spiritual workshops in various traditions, but that never happened before!” Many of my students travel across continents to connect with ancestral material. I have students in Australia and even one rune magician student on a research station in Antarctica!
ev0ke: Which Deities, powers, or other spirits are honored in your tradition?
IA: The Norse Gods, of course (who do not always resemble the way they are portrayed in the Thor movies!), but the landvættir (the spirits of the land) also play a huge role, on the everyday level. The Old Norse material is very clear about the fact that the beings we call elves in English (Álfar in Old Norse) are closely connected to the male ancestors. They in turn are closely connected to the fertility of animals, crops, and a good harvest. Often they are male ancestral spirits who choose to stay involved with the matters of caretaking land, animals, homesteads, et cetera after death. They have their own feast or ceremony around the time of Samhain/Hallowe’en in other parts of Europe, called the Álfablót, literally sacrifice (offering ceremony) dedicated to the Elves.
The Old Norse Tradition works with the inhabitants of all realms. We are commonly told that there are nine worlds in Norse cosmology, but the academically correct number is twelve; there are twelve worlds! The Poetic Edda (in the poem Völuspá) tells us that those famous “nine worlds” are mentioned in the context of the nine universes that existed before the present one (that we inhabit). Another reference is to “the nine worlds that the goddess Hel rules,” but there are additional worlds where Hel (who represents Death) does not rule, meaning that they transcend mortality. The ancient text Grimnismál lists twelve worlds by name, you can read it online here. (I also highly recommend the following book: The Seed of Yggdrasil by Norwegian scholar Maria Kvilhaug).
Too much information, I guess! To cut a long story short: people who commit to this Tradition (and ultimately our Tradition is not very forgiving of “dabbling,” it demands that people either commit or move on!) work with many beings who are neither human nor gods. Examples are Elves, Dwarves, Valkyries, et cetera. Another group is the Disir (deified female ancestors and counterpart of the Álfar in the sense that they choose to stay involved with living human beings and their concerns). And yes they have their own offering ceremony, too, at a different time of year, the so called Dísablót!
ev0ke: You just released The Green Bear: Linnea and Lars Visit the Bears in the Sky. First, congratulations! Second, what was the inspiration for The Green Bear?
IA: After graduating from Art School in Amsterdam (in my early 20s) I worked as an illustrator and graphic designer for several years. Working for various publishers soon invoked the dream of writing and illustrating my own stories one day. When the pandemic washed over us, and I was cut off from our house in Sweden because all borders closed (our children go to school in the UK), I decided to turn my yearning for the forest into a book instead. So Lars and Linnea live in a house, modelled on our own house in Sweden, and the illustrations are a fairly accurate representation of our local area: the forest, the lake and the coast of Baltic Sea! Future books will also feature standing stones, picture stones, and petroglyphs. If I cannot be there, I can paint my way there!
As a mother and spiritual teacher I feel passionate about keeping the magic alive in children, teaching them safe ways of navigating all worlds, and introducing them to the night sky and star lore (the Vikings were master navigators and astronomers, just think how far they sailed!). So my book combines a magical story with beautiful artwork and some education thrown in for good measure.
ev0ke: How did you create the illustrations for The Green Bear? What mediums did you use, and how long did it take to create each image?
IA: All illustrations are proper (fairly large) paintings (60 x 42 cm or 23 x 16 inches), executed in acrylic paint on black paper. During the pandemic I switched from painting on white canvas or paper to starting out with a black surface instead. Many of my sacred art students have followed this example because it really draws out the colour in a unique way! Each image takes a few hours to make, perhaps two to three hours in total, but in reality I work on about six or even eight illustrations at the same time because I constantly need to stop and wait for the paint to dry (to avoid ruining the whole thing with my own elbow). The book has twenty-five images in total: twenty-four illustrations and one painting made specifically for the cover (working around the text blocks).
ev0ke: What further adventures are you planning for Linnea and Lars?
IA: This is just the first book in what will become a series: The Adventures of the Green Bear. I am currently working on book two (and about halfway in terms of making the illustrations) where Lars and Linnea drop down a hollow tree trunk in the Forest and visit a mysterious Land of Fairy Tales where, among many other beings, the Animal Mothers live.
In animal healing work every animal species is perceived as having a Mother Soul who watches over all her children. It will be another exciting story, but I am also trying to model and promote the skill of animal communication and deep respect for all sentient beings.
The third story is about visiting a Forest Witch and learning from her about energetic workings and discovering what magic really is. (I have an ever-growing computer file of stories!)
ev0ke: Which other Pagan and witchy titles for children would you recommend?
IA: Generally speaking I feel that the world needs more quality titles written from an earth-honouring or shamanic viewpoint, mirroring back to very young children that the way they naturally perceive our world is valid and healthy. (Too many children shut down because of being told repeatedly that ‘animals don’t talk,’ ‘imaginary friends do not exist,’ and ‘not to be silly,’ et cetera) I like the following books and authors:
- My friend Valarie Budayr runs her own publishing company focussed on material for children. She’s got many great publications for e.g. refugee children making sense of their new surroundings etc. (Audrey Press – We connect families and children to nature, wonder, and the magic of being through beautiful books)
- Teen Spirit Guide to Modern Shamanism by Kelley Harrell
- Power Tools for Power Kids by Birgit Baader
- I have also written a review for the work of Georgiana Keable (The Natural Storyteller)
I love the magical illustrations of Katherine Soutar, but she seems to illustrate tales aimed at grown-ups. Still, her artwork is well worth showing to children.
ev0ke: You also recently published Medicine of the Imagination: Dwelling in Possibility: An Impassioned Plea for Fearless Imagination. In this book, you argue that “we cannot create what we cannot imagine.” What future do you imagine for humanity, and the planet?
IA: You do not shy away from the Big Questions, and indeed we shouldn’t! People keep asking: “When will this Covid-19 Pandemic end? When can we return to our normal lives?” It is quite obvious that we will all need to co-create the “new normal” and that this will be quite different from what we used to call “normal,” but was actually completely abnormal: polluting, depleting and abusing our planet and all the resources Mother Earth provides for us. We have not existed in right relationship with the animal peoples and nature beings (and indeed our ancestors) for a very long time now.
The key message of this book (my third book) is that we all use the amazing tool that is the human imagination all day long – but we receive no training in using that tool skilfully and fearlessly, with full awareness of the outcomes we are actively creating by means of our own thoughts, choices, decisions and actions. In spiritual work our imagination is one of our most important tools. It is also the interface that deities and spirit allies (compassionate ancestors, et cetera) use to communicate with us. It is time to take 100% responsibility for what we imagine and create!
I had just sent the manuscript for book two (Sacred Art) to the publisher when the spirits came and told me (in no uncertain terms) to write this book and that the title was going to be Medicine of the Imagination. So I took a deep breath and started typing .…
ev0ke: In Natural Born Shamans you address the issue of spirituality in childhood. Could you describe what you mean by “shamanic parenting”? What was the most difficult, but ultimately most satisfying, section of the book to write?
IA: Another good question! First let me explain that the word shamanism has become rather controversial, because many people now see it as form of counter-cultural appropriation. The word shamanism was created by anthropologists who took the Tungus (one tribe of the aboriginal peoples in Siberia) word shaman and added “-ism” to it to create our word shamanism. I try hard to find other words but in reality I do end up using the terms shamanic practice and shamanic healing because they are well-established concepts in our culture.
By shamanic parenting I mean parenting in a way that honours the spiritual well-being of children and encourages them to arrive at their own spiritual compass, through direct contact with ancestors, deities spirit allies, animal spirits and so forth.
In my own Roman Catholic upbringing there was a lot of focus on dogma: “Christ is our Saviour”, “Ours is the One True Faith,” et cetera. There was not a lot of scope for critical thinking or diversity of religious experience.
I called my book Natural Born Shamans because children are born as magical beings, who naturally talk to trees and perceive worlds unseen by many adults. My observation (as a parent of three children) is that this natural ability needs nourishing (not stifling or ridiculing) because we owe children a spiritual compass, to navigate our increasingly complex world. After all every situation has a spiritual dimension and every imbalance or disease has a spiritual root cause.
We also owe children spiritual sovereignty: a free choice of path. As described, I myself changed traditions at age nineteen. Many parents have told me that they share no spiritual teachings with their children at all, in order to be “kind” and provide a “neutral” kind of parenting (often as a response to being raised in a spiritually oppressive environment themselves). However, I observe that this ultimately leaves young people rudderless (as they grow older). My philosophy is: share with them what works for you. Initiate them into your own tradition (if you have one). This will create a small “spirit canoe”, meaning they can paddle and navigate (and rebel!). Make it clear that they can upgrade their canoe for another model or vessel any time – but at least they have a boat, they will not drown in the storms and tempests Life throws at them .…
The most difficult parts to write were twofold. One issue was the importance of Initiation and Rites of Passage work with young people (and how they self-initiate in truly risky ways if we do not provide this for them). The second issue was about the way children end up carrying ancestral or inter-generational pain, which is left behind if people die without resolving or healing things. With students I often use the phrase “backpack”: someone else will need to pick up that pain and carry it around (relive the key imprints and traumas) because it is unresolved and seeks healing, balancing, or unravelling. Children have fallen sick and died, carrying way too much ancestral pain. Many young people have serious mental health problems, again carrying way too much intergenerational pain. Sadly one could say that this is a ‘parallel pandemic’, unfolding before our very eyes. It is very hard to talk or write about this topic without frightening or alienating the audience. (Check out The Pregnant Hag in dialogue with Katharine Haworth.)
ev0ke: You contributed to the anthology Witch Lit: Words From the Cauldron. How did you decide what to submit, and how did you become involved with the anthology?
IA: My friend Sheena Cundy runs a FB group dedicated to (so called) Witch Lit and bringing together “Witches Who Write”. I knew that an anthology was being written by a collective of authors who identify as witches. At that time I was in the early stages of making the transition from calling myself a “shamanic practitioner” to calling myself a Forest Witch instead (honouring both my witch ancestors and the forest spirits), so I was not sure I was “qualified” to contribute a piece. A quick conversation with Laura Perry reassured me that a contribution from a Forest Witch was most welcome. So I went ahead and wrote about the forest and the expeditions my youngest son and I make to find deer bones for our collection of magical objects. Soon after that I was approached by the Smithsonian Museum about appearing in a documentary film about arctic deer shamanism! Such are the workings of the Queen of Synchronicity!
ev0ke: Where can people find your work?
IA: All my books are available on Amazon and can also be ordered through local bookstores. My paintings are available through my website (see the Art Gallery section) and I try to feature one painting a day on my Facebook profile. People are invited to enroll in my on-line school: Pregnant Hag Teachings. All classes I teach (online) are recorded and remain available on the site. I am also on Twitter: @ImeldaAlmqvist and Instagram: almqvistimelda.
ev0ke: What other projects are you working on, literary or otherwise?
IA: I am working on a handbook for Rune Magicians which has a companion book in the form of a rune compendium. I recently got into making digital art. I like the way that it allows me to make different versions of one image and add music and movement in the form of animations. What I have found especially intriguing is that it enables me to “Photoshop myself into my own paintings and then animate them” and that sparks off fresh perspectives and new visual adventures.
I hope to return to in-person teaching soon, all over the world, but this period of time-on-ice has brought blessings of its own, such as creating entire workshops inspired by my own dreams and dreams reported by my students. I have also taken great joy in seeing my art students build bridges and alliances across the Atlantic Ocean (and beyond). I miss them all terribly!
Our youngest son will start university and leave home in just over a year’s time and that will allow me to become a full time Forest Witch in Sweden. Some students have already asked: will the future bring a Forest Witch Training in Sweden? The answer is YES!
[Biography: Imelda Almqvist is an international teacher of Sacred Art and Seidr/Old Norse Traditions (the ancestral wisdom teachings of Northern Europe). She has published three books: Natural Born Shamans: A Spiritual Toolkit for Life (Using shamanism creatively with young people of all ages) in 2016, Sacred Art: A Hollow Bone for Spirit (Where Art Meets Shamanism) in 2019 and Medicine of the Imagination – Dwelling in possibility (an impassioned plea for fearless imagination) in 2020. She has presented her work on both The Shift Network and Sounds True. She appears in a TV program, titled Ice Age Shaman, made for the Smithsonian Museum, in the series Mystic Britain, talking about Neolithic arctic deer shamanism. Her fourth book, about the pre-Christian spirituality of The Netherlands and Low Countries, will be published in 2022. She has started her fifth book: about the runes of the Futhark/Uthark. In response to the 2020 pandemic she has opened an on-line school, called Pregnant Hag Teachings, to make more of her classes available on-line. Imelda has just published her first picture book for children: The Green Bear!]