Interview with Hexenfrau Swanhilde
The following interview is an excerpt from the book, by Hunter M. Yoder, Heiden Hexology, Essays and Interviews, 2012
Heil der Swan
As promised the questions......
I have the pleasure of interviewing Hexenfrau Swanhilde, one of the leading Deitsch Heathen Hexologists today, who along with her husband, Valulfr Vaerulsson, combine to create the hexafoos in the traditional manner with something extra, Anyway Swan, first question.
Your work has an intensity to it which is remininscent to me of the Northern Rennaissance minatures of the Flemish masters who worked in egg tempura and egg oil tempura, How do you get that intensity into your work?
I am unsure if you are referring to the color usage or the small detail so I will answer from the perspective of both concepts. As for colors, the Renaissance period in art had an intense richness and depth to the colors. They were also masters at the use of the principle of simultaneous contrast to enhance the depth and shades of colors. This technique is based on the way that the eye perceives colors when placed next to another color. For example you can take one color and when it is placed next to several colors your eye will perceive it differently next to each color. This is one of the primary design aspects that I utilize when painting. Having worked for Sherwin Williams for ten years, I have a firm grasp on colors and what is necessary to make a color and what colors work to enhance other colors. Everything boils down to color for me. Even when I make a salad, I base the ingredients on color not flavor. As I have evolved as a hexologist, I have noticed that this intensity of color that you speak of has grown by leaps and bounds.
As for the detail work, I have always worked small. My art professor used to get on me about that all of the time. “You need to work bigger” he would say. I have worked both ends of that spectrum, but I do like the minute details. I have been doing that since childhood, filling up notebook paper with tiny little drawings. One childhood activity that left a major impression on me was the art of Ukrainian Eggs at Easter after my brother and I outgrew the Easter Bunny. In the making of the hexes, I utilize the sense of design that I have built upon as an adult through art training and working with interior design. While I can attribute it to this or that, most of what you see from me is essentially an innate ability.
Many of your traditional designs are based on Hexenmeister Lee R. Gandee's own. What attracts you to his work?
This is difficult to answer in a short response. I have been drawn strongly to his work even before I knew it was his, or even who he was. I have been drawn on and off over the years to this art, but I will always consider his work to be my favorite. As my understanding of this craft has increased, and I have now read his book “Strange Experience” (and I thank you for that), I find that my draw to his designs is even stronger. I have been working with the craft of rune magic for eighteen years and have attained a level of mastery. When I look at his hexes, I can see the rich blend of the art and the magic, and I somehow understand them. I see many that have lost touch with the magic and I see them as simply a folk art. His work incites sensation within me on a very deep level. They are very powerful even though they are in black and white. Now that I know more about the man, I see similarities between him and I. As I grew up, there were certain aspects of my personality that I had kept to myself. In urban areas, there was little tolerance for the “old ways”. Being that most of the populace had no sense of these things, I was seen as “odd”. Fortunately my mother was “odd” too but hers was squelched by her mother with a switch. In many ways she fostered in me that which she could not express without being beaten as a child. When I was about three I took a purple crayon and drew on the wall in the upstairs hall. She never cleaned it off because, as she puts it, she was amazed because it reminded her of primitive art. While she never allowed herself to explore her magical leanings beyond the intellectualization of various systems, she never stood in my way and fostered me in looking beyond the social norm. But I digress. I would have liked to meet Mr. Gandee, to learn from him. The main thing that I did learn from his book is that I need to trust my instincts.
Can you share with us to some degree how you activate your hexafoos?
They actually are activated even before any paint is spread. In my experience they have a life of their own, and the energy that they contain exists before they are visually represented, and I am the conduit to the expression of that energy. I approach each one in a ritual manner. I always have a candle lit, and I have recently begun to wear a straw hat while painting. It is my gardening hat, which makes it an article of clothing associated with gestation and growth. When working on one for an individual, I ask them for three key words to express their desired effect. I actually can express energies and emotions visually much better than I can with words. I recently completed a personal hex which is geared towards the magical process and creative spark that led me to and has assisted me in this form of magic and art. This piece was activated in a different manner than the others because of its personal nature. It was tied to me and I to it in a ritualistic manner, the details of which will remain unsaid. It will appear in the show at Germ in February 2009, but will not be for sale. To date, I see it as my most powerful piece to date.
I know that there is a 'count' in your work, especially in the borders, what role does the numerology play in your work?
Ah yes, that there is. I am very much aware of the numerology as it applies to the runes, and I will integrate runic elements through the numbers within the patterns. Many times I will use the number twenty-four in the borders denoting the number of runes in the elder futhark. Also by using twenty-four each point or scallop falls every fifteen degrees and fifteen denotes the rune elhaz which represents protection. Fifteen times 24 equals 360, which will break down in this manner 3+6+0 = 9 = hagalaz or transformation. There are also universal numerical principles which I will get into more in the next question. Suffice it to say that I have always had a head for math and the patterns that exist numerically.
What are your feelings about six as compared to eight pointed stars? Do you prefer one over the other?
First I would like to address some numerical principles. What I have in mind are the symbolic representations of the numbers three and four. The number four, in many traditions, represents those things which are bound by the laws of nature or the physical. Three represents spiritual matters which are far more malleable and intangible in nature. Both of the stars that you asked about are twofold aspects of these paradigms, and can be viewed through this lens.
I like them both and use them in pieces where the desired effect warrants them. One of my favorites though, is the twelve which we have discussed before. It has a combination of both three and four. I really cannot say that I like one over another, because I love them all. It is all pieces of a larger picture that most never conceive of beyond their own piece of the puzzle. By utilizing all of these principals we begin to see dimensionally rather than flat like a puzzle on a card table.
Your work uses symbology sparingly yet the intention is clear, how do you do that?
Does the color combinations you use substitute for symbolism?
I guess that I had not thought about it, but you are right. I tend to work more with the geometrical designs rather than symbology. There is something that has occurred to me since working in this medium that you may find interesting. I have been performing rune readings for about seventeen years. My talent is that I am empathic. The readings generally are extremely personal in nature as a result. More times than not, when I am performing a reading for an individual, I receive the “messages” in a geometric form, and I have to decipher what emotions it evokes in me. Before I began working with and learning hexology I did not understand why this happened, and I have never met any other reader who has a similar occurrence. I still do not know how or why this happens, but I believe that it directly ties into my ability to create powerful hexes without the use of symbology. I do use various symbols from time to time, but I am more strongly drawn to the geometrics. The colors play a major role in conveying the purpose to the viewer on a subliminal level allowing them to “feel” the meaning. An interesting side note to this is that while discussing this question and answer with Valulfr, he put out a theory. He postulated that when I receive these geometrical patterns that I am seeing their fetch, and that where most people see them as animals, that I see them as geometrical patterns. I believe that he is right. It is amazing how we can know so much and always have room to learn and achieve higher levels of perception and understanding.
What comparisons can be made between the Deitsch Hexafoos tradition and the Icelandic Galdrastafir tradition? How closely related are they?
There are similarities and differences in both traditions. While they essentially evolved in separate regions, they both stem from an Indo-European psychology. They both utilize a similar field principle in that there is a rule of three in the breakdown of the circle that contains the glyphs. Working from the center point outwards there is the inner self, then the second or the realm that merges the outside influences with the inner, finally the outside influences, or the outer edge of the circle. Where the Galdrastafir were a more secret art, utilized by magicians, the hexafoos were employed by the folk , their display being more prominent. They are both magical arts yet the hexafoos is more acceptable due to the perception by outsiders that they are purely decorative in nature. This allowed the German folk to be surrounded by magical art without fear. Over time, they have seemed to devolve into a more decorative art except in small pockets of the population. I do see them as related yet they evolved differently based on localized cultural influences.
Can you explain Gandee's "Eye of God" design? Is it his original design or is it based on an older one? I don't 'feel' that one, what am I missing?
As a child I used to make these things out of sticks and yarn. I have looked into their origin, and what I can figure out regarding this question and the Gandee design, is that he picked this design up during his time in Mexico, as the craft is found there and in Bolivia. It could be that you do not feel a connection to it because it is not a design of Germanic origin. I have made two of this design thus far. While I initially had the same opinion of this design as you have expressed, when I made it for Jack Montgomery, I found the experience quite powerful, and it left me with a massive headache that appeared each time I reproached it to put the last touches on it. Because of the nature of the piece’s use, and the profound effect it had on me, I have opted not to post that particular one in my portfolio. I have no wish to lessen its power in any way.
As a Seidkhona, what connection is there between Seidhr and making Hexafoos?
This is an interesting question Hunter. I have pondered this question longer than any of the others. It touches on a mystery that I have wrestled with for many years. Let me lay out a basic idea of what I believe about seidhr based upon my years of contemplation. Seidhr is a form of active magic that is performed by achieving an ecstatic state, the means and method of which are sketchy at best. I find that many believe that foretelling or Spæ craft is seidhr. This is a form of passive magic and just does not fit with the lore. One point that I get stuck on that relates to this stance is that it is written that Freyja was the possessor of this art and that Odhinn learned it from her. It is also written that Odhinn possesses a chair that while sitting in it can foresee. Why would he need to gain this knowledge if he could already do this. There are many questions that have no answers regarding Seidhr and no one can claim the true use of this craft.
If I approach this question from the perspective of my views on this subject, which in reality I could go on about for a long while but will keep brief for these purposes, I would say that there are some similarities. I have found that when creating a hexafoos with an intended purpose and owner, I enter a state that is quasi-trancelike. While I am aware of my surroundings as they are, if someone speaks to me, I will hear their voice but not the words, and in some cases I will not understand their words. The energy that flows through me into the hexefoos is very strong and the recognizable sensations that it triggers vary but are extremely intense (ecstatic). The designs and colors flow out onto the wood with great ease and speed and the piece takes on a vibration of its own and so far have seemed to worked their intent well. With a working of seidhr, I would require an outside stimulus to achieve such a state and effect. With the hexefoos, I become one with the wood and paint stimulating the energy in it as much as the piece creates it in me. As I transform the wood, it transforms me!
Lastly when using hearts in a hexafoos, should they point inward or outward?
That would depend entirely on the creator’s intent with the energy they symbolize. That is whether they wish to draw it in or send it out. With all symbols, the placement and orientation can denote different aspects of their representation.
So my answer is “yes”.