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 programme 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 online school called Pregnant Hag Teachings to make more of her classes available online.
I recently interviewed Imelda about her writing and it made me curious about her online school. Needless to say, I immediately asked if we could schedule another interview. Here it is.
Pregnant Hag Teachings
Hi Imelda, welcome back! I can’t wait to learn more about your online school. Can you tell us what Pregnant Hag Teachings is all about?
For obvious reasons, there has been a lot of talk about all the losses that the Covid-19 pandemic has brought and wrought. Those losses are real, far-reaching, and will require a collective commitment to creating safe spaces for grief-tending work, for many years to come. I am especially concerned about the way young people are affected by a year of lockdowns and by the alarming rise of mental health issues reported in children and teens. Having fully acknowledged that, the pandemic has also brought gifts and blessings.
I was teaching in the US (Philadelphia) when the UK went into its first lockdown (in March 2020) and managed to get home on the final flight out (a very eerie experience). I narrowly escaped a prolonged experience of house arrest on another continent, away from my children and family!
At the time, I did not realise what this watershed would do to my professional life. A full programme of planned courses in the US had to be cancelled (or at least postponed). One of my long-term students and associates (her name is Valarie Budayr) stepped in soon and said: ‘Imelda, you need to start an online school, so your students all over the world can continue to work with you. I know that you think of yourself as a hands-on and in-person teacher, but cataclysmic times require draconian adjustments!’
With her support, I opened my online school in September 2020 and I called it Pregnant Hag Teachings. The opening consisted of a free webinar (which remains available free of charge) called Meet the Pregnant Hag!
The key concept behind this school is that I can continue to work with my students, regardless of my own and their physical location (and constraints on travel). I decided to treat 2020–2021 as ‘A Great Pause’ and offer segments of existing courses online. For years, people had asked me for online Seiðr classes (classes in Old Norse traditions and Nordic spirituality), but my standard reply was that I could hardly see myself running High Seat Ceremonies online! After the publication of my second book, Sacred Art: A Hollow Bone for Spirit, a lot of people asked for online sacred art classes—another thing I was not very keen on.
However, I am proud to say that I currently have an online programme of regular sacred art classes, Seiðr classes, and also classes for Rune Magicians. These classes are not only well attended, but I observe participants building professional bridges and personal relationships across continents, so that has been an unexpected but thrilling benefit!
That sounds marvellous and I’m excited by how you embraced this seemingly inevitable change while acknowledging all the loss we have experienced over the past year and will continue to experience for a while to come. Now, how did you come up with the name, Pregnant Hag Teachings?
I made my website many years ago and, today, I would give it a different name, if I had the chance to do it all over again. At fifty-three years old, I am becoming determinedly preoccupied with becoming an Elder. We live in such an age-phobic culture. Old people are routinely made to feel that they are ‘past their use-by-date’. We all know how the pandemic has played out in care homes for elderly and highly vulnerable people.
This is a reversal of how things are in tribal/indigenous societies, where the Elders are the Wisdom Keepers guiding the whole tribe. The pandemic has also flagged (or mirrored) the flip side of this issue, as retired nurses and doctors were begged to come out of retirement and return to work, to relieve pressures on the public health system, something I’ve written about here.
I want to grow old consciously, not in denial about my age or desperately hiding the changes in my body. I am extremely aware that aging is a huge privilege (think again of all the people dying premature deaths from Covid-19). As an (aspiring) Elder of the global community, and life-long teacher, I actively wish to offer wisdom teachings and mentoring to people younger than myself.
The Pregnant Hag (in-dwelling spirit of the Hagal or Hagalaz Rune) is one of my greatest allies and role models. Her great secret and mystery teaching is that she may be old but she is pregnant! Her secret is that she knows how to rebirth herself!
As my own children grow into young adolescents, she is encouraging me to set up spiritual programs and mentoring systems for young people. I’d like to be a (kind of) Furious Activist Grandma (long before I become a biological grandma, if such a thing is in the pipeline, not assumed!) rather than retire from public life to live out my remaining days in a kind of comfort zone or twilight zone.
As a mother-of-three, I have a special interest in children and teens, but I am passionate about reaching out to people of all ages, offering sacred space for learning and ceremony but also sacred space where deep grief and profound loss can be tended and witnessed.
I even have a post-death goal to become a Compassionate Ancestor in the Afterlife, and watch over my family lineage in an appropriate way when the time comes to drop my ‘human coat’!
The Pregnant Hag is all of those things and more: she is wise, fearless, formidable, and cares deeply about the future of young humans (and also baby animals), about the Earth herself, and a return to following the Original Instructions, humans relearning how to be proper Earth Keepers…
No, I am not planning to go into that good night quietly…
‘Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.’
― Dylan Thomas, Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night
I love that, I really do. So, how is your online school different from everything else out there? What does it add?
Great question! One of my (many) mental blocks was that it has become very popular to run online courses. It is now almost a ‘given’, or milestone, for any author, content creator, et cetera. I felt no desire to ‘add to the virtual noise’, but, in reality, the feedback received has been that ‘these on-line classes are the best thing to have come out of Lockdown!’ I’m quoting Katherine Haworth with permission here, who has pointed out that these classes allow her to still make art with her community, while stuck at home as a single mother of four children in lockdown!
My classes offer a deep immersion in both sacred art (all classes involve making art and sharing time), Seiðr work (with a focus on historical accuracy, there is a fair amount of material out there, which is largely fiction based on popular Norse mythology!), and the next thing up is classes (or sessions) for young people in spiritual toolkit work (which is part of another project I started in 2020: Healing Wise, spiritual outreach work with children).
You really did embrace it! Why did you create Pregnant Hag Teachings?
Because my audience asked for it and because not being able to teach in person created a window of ‘time out from back-to-back in person teaching commitments’, to work through the (considerable!) tech challenges so I could revision and restructure my work in the form of online classes and events.
Who will benefit from Pregnant Hag Teachings?
The people who already benefit are my long-term students and more people enrol in my school every day. The most amazing thing is that it allows all of us to continue working together, from our own homes and locations. You could say that working this way has an impressively low carbon footprint! Having said that, there will always be things you cannot do online, or at least not with the level of depth, immersion, and atmosphere as you can do in person. (I am now even talking to a colleague about offering an online High Seat Ceremony together, once a certain easing of lockdown restrictions occurs!)
One amazing discovery just this week is how working online allows us to create events and respond to things much faster. I shared a recent significant dream on Facebook. People asked me to turn it into a workshop (and, possibly, a long-term women’s group) and it all came together in just a few days!
What is the best advice you were ever given, in terms of creative process?
The best advice I ever received as a young painter came from one teacher on my first day at Art School in Amsterdam: ‘Don’t sit around idle until inspiration strikes like lightning! Get behind your easel and paint, even if you feel the process is going nowhere! Make painting and drawing a daily practice and track where your own process takes you!’
I am very fortunate in that I have worked with many fabulously talented people over the years (in my classes and healing sessions). One thing I would like to mention here is that, over three decades, I have pioneered a way of working (described in details in my second book, Sacred Art) that dissolves creative blocks.
Over the years, I discovered how that is one area where I have a bit of an edge: helping people break through long-standing blocks. This is done through a combination of releasing limiting beliefs, actively embracing deep soul processes of (symbolic) death and rebirth, and also through rediscovering our umbilical cord to Spirit (as we view and understand that—I don’t foist cosmologies or beliefs on people but encourage them to develop their own way of working).
Therefore, the writing advice that I most often (several times a week!) give to others is: writer’s block (or the artist’s ‘fear of a white canvas’) need not exist, there are creative ways ‘out of that’ state of mind (or around that). There is no need at all to suffer in a prolonged state of being stuck (which is utterly soul-destroying and confidence-crushing).
Do you have any advice for anyone else who contemplates starting an online school?
- Do your research, know your audience, and ask those people (at regular intervals) what they want from you.
- Start off with some free events, both to test the waters and address teething problems.
- In terms of charging for courses or events: start small (all that is required initially is a Zoom account and a way of taking payments, for example Ticket Tailor or Eventbrite)
- Over time you may well opt for an online platform (such as Teachable, Thinkific, or Kajabi).
- Modern technology literally allows people all over the world to connect with you (I have a Rune Magician student on a research station in Antarctica!), so you will always find people who share a special interest or want your specialist knowledge!
- Be a bit clever with the timing of events. Most of my classes are in the evening (UK or Sweden time, depending on where I am), so people in the US can participate during their afternoon.
- Build community with people who do similar work and promote each other’s offerings!
And last but not least, a general comment: please write reviews (however brief) on sites such as Amazon (and similar) for books you enjoy. Most people have no clue what a difference that makes to a (possibly struggling) author! Even a four-word review works just fine (for example, ‘I loved this book!’). More people will consider buying the book and a publisher will have more faith in the future offerings of the same author, if good reviews roll in.