Two years ago I met the goddess Nanna for the first time.
Everybody experiences a connection with divinity differently. This isn’t true only in pagan polytheism but for anyone, Christian to Hindu. Anyone who pursues a relationship with (a) god, goddess, or spirit is going to have a different method of communication with that being.
For me, deities have always entered my consciousness through dream visions. This is partially why I call myself a dreamworker; I’m better able to connect with other realms from the dreamscape than I am able to from woken consciousness. Some people may have the ability of clairaudience, the ability to hear a deity speak. Others may find communication with spirit at its strongest through automatic writing. For me, it’s dreams.
And that is where Nanna introduced herself.
I knew nothing about Norse paganism. I’ve mentioned before that I’m of a Jewish background on my mother’s side. My mother’s father, however, was Scottish. His family came from the Scottish highlands to America. I’m one of many people who have found Scotland’s landscapes so beautiful that it arises a homesickness within. But exploring Scottish or Celtic folklore or spiritual traditions was not something that interested me. My grandfather wasn’t a good man, and I felt that if I embraced that part of my heritage I was also embracing him. I didn’t want to make him, as an ancestor, vibrant in my practice by engaging with my Scottish heritage.
Even so, figures like Freyja, the Morrigan, or Bride (Brigid) have attracted my attention. But I never picked up a book or studied these pantheons. I didn’t want to. I didn’t want anything to do with the connection I had to that land because I had it through my grandfather. (Now, of course, I’ve grown passed this. I’ve discovered that the Scottish highlands in particular offer a fantastic mix of Norse, Irish, and local Scottish lore. In the highlands can be found a tapestry of practices that emerged from centuries of Northern European travel, trade, conquest, and settlements.)
Instead, I embraced other roots and traditions. I studied mythologies of the desert and fertile crescent, seeking to trace both a bloodline and a spiritual line to figures like Qetesh, Asherah, and Ishtar.
Then Nanna came.
The dreamvision from Odin and Nanna
Two years ago, while I was living in Japan, I was out with my husband and a close friend. We were bar hopping, dancing, and doing the usual wandering of the city that we did on the weekends. Rather than take a taxi home at 3am, our friend opened up her home to us for the night. We went back to her place, and I passed out hard on the futon.
My dreams were normal and, as usually, mildly lucid. Fragments of reality and fantasy wove into one another, creating silly narratives that I was half aware were dreams but enjoyed for their spunk.
In the final dream before I awoke, I was standing over a bunch of salmon in the grocery store. I was arguing with my husband about which one we should barbeque for a party the next day. I heard something crackle like thunder above me. I looked up and saw a bearded man with an old, ancient face peering back down on me.
He appeared massive from where I stood – easily the size of a cloud! The crevices in his skin and the tangles of his hair reminded me of the enchanted forest coloring books my mother collected. His body was aged almost like tree bark, almost like an old human man, but something was just… different. Ethereal.
I observed him for a few moments. Then I told this man I was busy. I (melodramatically) turned my back to him and tried to continue the discussion over salmon with my husband.
But he reached down from above and grabbed me by the shoulders with just two fingers – again, he was massive – and lifted me up out of the grocery store. When he did so, I felt my consciousness leave the dream itself. I entered into a new space, and saw the dream paused on the other side of a tear in space.
I don’t want to call where I went the astral plane, because in many ways I don’t think it was; but there was something very real about it as a realm. It was dark, a little chilly, but not discomforting. There were glittering stars that seemed more like fireflies in the distance. He placed me on a kind of silver platform and, when I did, I became fully aware of myself. I was fully aware that I was no longer dreaming.
I knew my body was on the futon at my friend’s house, fast asleep. I knew it was likely nearing dawn. This realm was familiar to me, but unexplored; I felt that I had stood on that platform many times.
The old man tapped a rod that hung suspended in space. When he did, a tapestry unrolled rapidly. It descended and descended. The length and size of the images was similar to semitrucks or the front of a large barn. I faced both he and the tapestry as if they were monuments.
The tapestry was white linen, with black silky illustrations embroidered into the cloth. A hint of color was there, as if it had faded long ago. The illustrations were of faces and figures I didn’t recognize. Each individual was arranged within columns but connected across the design by a labyrinth of tree roots, vines, and geometric patterns.
About a third of the way down the tapestry in the middle column, the old man pointed to an illustration of himself. He was missing an eye and holding an orb. I finally understood who he was.
“Oh, you’re Odin.”
He pulled his massive hand away from the tapestry and nodded without saying a word.
“What am I doing here?” My tone was certainly annoyed. I didn’t, at the time, have a good opinion of Odin. While I knew his myth and appreciated it, my opinion had been tainted by the many white supremacists who worship him. I felt immediately defensive. It was as if I were waiting for him to say something that would allow me to cast blame on him for the actions of his followers. In retrospect, I know this was very childish of my dream self to do. But I believe the gods are empathetic to the hypervigilence of people on earth around social issues.
Anyway, I very rudely asked again: “What am I doing here? I’m busy, what do you want?”
Further down the tapestry, off to the left, he pointed to another illustration. This one was of a woman. She had long, dark hair that went to her knees. The sides were pulled up into small ties just above and behind her ears. She had a soft, youthful face.
“This is Nanna,” Odin said.
I laughed at him. “Inanna is nothing like that.”
“This is Nanna,” he said again.
Annoyed, I crossed my arms and said, “No, Inanna is a Mesopotamian goddess. She is far more fierce than this flowergirl.” (Cringeworthy, I know. But one’s dreamself is often a bit immature as 12th housey.)
But Odin didn’t flinch. He did not care that I was standing there, this puny little thing, backtalking. He did pull away, though. And when he did, the illustration began to move.
From the embroidered linen the woman emerged in full color. She was ethereal, unbound, and almost glowing with light. Her hair was dark brown with the front gathered into little burlap-like ribbons, and her dress was a gorgeous shade of blue. She was very simple in appearance, humble even, and smiled at me.
“I am Nanna.” She said this slowly, enough for me to now understand that Odin wasn’t saying Inanna – but Nanna.
I stared at her in awe. She opened her mouth to speak again – and I woke up.
Making sense of the encounter
My husband and my friend were already awake. They were in the kitchen making eggs and coffee. It was 6am according to the clock on the wall. We’d hardly slept at all – just three hours at most.
I reached for my phone and kept my back to them. I wanted privacy to search the internet about who the hell this “Nanna” figure was.
I didn’t know what to make of the dream, I had never heard of Nanna before nor did I know anything, really, about Norse gods beyond Odin’s mission to hang in a tree. Well, I knew that Freyja was a general badass with a cat-drawn chariot too. But otherwise, I had nothing to go on.
Of course, my phone was dead. I asked for a charger, ate breakfast, and tried to make small talk. But my mind was just racing.
As we were getting ready to leave for Sunday shopping, I did a quick search of just her name. My heart about burst out of my body when Wikipedia confirmed for me that yes, indeed, there is a Norse goddess named Nanna.
I waited until I was home that afternoon to lay down and read about her. I was expecting tons of articles and myths and encyclopedia entries. But I found nothing.
Again and again came up the same set of facts about Nanna: that she was the wife of Baldr, that she died of grief, that archaeologists had found a hair comb with what may be an inscription to her on it. Some people tried linking her to Inanna, but the connection has been dismissed. End.
I’ve spoken before about why love goddesses seem to come to beginner pagans and polytheists. My thesis is essentially that their expression of the divine feminine is absent from Western spiritual culture, and our thirst for that wisdom is so great that love goddesses are our first healer by necessity.
As I explore the lore and spiritual planes of the Scottish highlands, I’m embracing the complexity of ancestry and reincarnation. I wonder now if this was a hand extended to me by Nanna as I began again. I made an offering to her the following day and I have considered more than once making an altar to her in my home. So far, I haven’t. But in sharing this story, I think I’ve changed my mind.
There is so little information about Nanna available to us in the 21st century. I suppose the best way for me to learn about her is going to have to be working with her myself.