Aesir, Asatru, Heathen, Heathentry, Pagan, Uncategorized

Mantles, fetches and collective soul

Magic is a term that gets thrown around a lot more than it should, largely because very few people have taken the time to work out what it is each other means by it.  Magic is very important or even central to the practice of individuals who self identify as witches of whatever stripe and is often the point of collective ritual or worship.  While the practice of magic as an act of will and intent is something they understand, the magic that arises from long standing community is not something that their writings or discussions touch upon, save those who have personally encountered the phenomenon to their dismay.

 

Heathens frequently do not have any magic at all in their personal practice and take part in magic only as part of community practice.  Our understanding of the self and soul is different from the hermetic ritual magicians or wiccans in that we really do focus more on the building and strengthening of ties as the point of ritual, hospitality being the tool used to build relationship between individuals, between the folk and the land, between the living and the dead, between the folk and their gods and goddesses.  These ties form family into a thing that exists outside the flesh, blood and bone of the individuals involved and power the actions of the Disir, who can and do put their will upon the world for the blood they claim as their own.

There is a thing beyond the family that is important for Heathens and indeed other pagans to recognize, and that is the community as an entity.  The term is so often used by racist ass-hats that it has fallen into disuse and deliberate ignorance by Heathens of worth, to our collective danger; the folk soul.

Lets take the baggage of the term “folk soul” and toss it into the rubbish bin the racist dogma itself deserves and use the magical term that Heathens of old would have used for it, the community fetch.  A little background for those whose knowledge of the Heathen soul parts is rusty, or not yet fully fleshed out.  The fetch is a part of our soul that attaches to us nine days after birth, the traditional time for a baby to be named in antiquity.  The fetch is the only part of the human soul that has a degree of independent action during our life, and after our death.  The fetch is often inherited from ancestors of blood or oath, bringing with it the blessings or bane of what has gone before.  Frequently taking animal form and usable to take us and show us what the embodied spirit may not access, the fetch is a thing that has great power in healing work and divination.

Communities also have a collective identity, and as the community grows in age and power so does its identity or collective soul.  A fetch forms for this community that is real and potent, most importantly, it is not something you can choose not to partake in.  The mantle of leadership is something that the ancients understood; the role of the sacral king, the community seer, priest/priestess, the war leader, these were things that held a portion of the power of all those who had been called to carry them, and acted as a focus of the communities need as the agent of its will or defense.

Those communities that put spiritual purpose into their actions invest more energy into the collective soul than ones whose purpose lacks the spiritual intent.  The fetch may never fully form or develop awareness enough to impact those who inherit the mantle of even the longest standing or largest organization whose spiritual focus is not coherent, while even a young or small organization whose spiritual focus is both coherent and intense will swiftly develop a fetch whose power and character settle firmly onto whomever holds the mantle of its agency.

Do you ever wonder why we burn out so many of our leaders?  Part of it honestly is political infighting and endless almost parasitic expectations of a community for shiny things to be put on for them in a thousand glorious forms, as long as they don’t have to pay or work for it.  Seriously, not giving us an out on the practical aspect, we still need to do a whole lot better at honouring those who do the grunt work and reward those who create for us.  Another part that many people are not prepared for is the weight of the mantle itself, the power of the fetch.

Have you ever experienced the conflict of a second soul whose needs, instincts, and even judgement is different from your own?  Have you ever been ridden by a fetch whose will and need admits no allowance for weakness or human limitations in the service of the communities needs.  It’s not as fun as it sounds, and really can leave you shattered, twisted, or doubting your own sanity as you find yourself driven to pursue solutions not your own choosing.

The fetch is a real thing, arising from the mantle that settles over you when you accept a role in the community.  To be the holder of a community fetch of a strong and magically coherent community is a mixed blessing, for the coherence of the community’s will is itself simply an expression of its potential to seek its own ends.

Strong does not and should not be confused with healthy.  Communities that are out of balance, that have strayed from their purpose, or communities that harbour abuses inside their outward shining purpose lead to fetches that are by any standard dangerous and damaging.  Some organizations fetches carry the damage of previous periods of strife or concealed abuse to the point that the best intended inheritors are damaged or even broken by the weight of the fetch they inherit.

Why am I bothering to talk about this at all, you may be asking?  The answer is that as community leaders, as magical people, we have the ability to act upon the knowledge of what is happening to do a number of things that are positive and effective.  Firstly, we can understand what is happening when we take on a role in the community and find ourselves suddenly pushed and pulled by desires and insights not our own.  To understand what is operating, to understand that the community fetch is communicating its needs and desires to you allows you to balance your will and judgement with that of the collective, to accept its counsel and decide for yourself, rather than choose between being a puppet or being at war with this unseen thing inside you that suddenly strives to make choices for you.  Secondly, we can understand that a fetch that is damaging or dark is twisted by disharmony or outright malice in the community.  Address the very real issues damaging the community and see the fetch return to a harmonious and positive whole.

Lastly, sometimes the fetch shows a community has rotted from within to the point that it is a danger to itself and others and what needs to happen is the community needs to be dissolved.  Whatever purpose drove the people to collect and join their will has been lost and twisted by so many that those who come later with good intent and focus are simply overcome by the collective pattern of abuse and disharmony so that all positive change is lost in a sea of whatever form of nasty has become the communities accepted practice.

Ignorance isn’t bliss, ignorance is surrendering your chance to change what exists today to make a better tomorrow.  As communities, pagans and Heathens are no longer simply tiny whirlpools that come together for a few seasons and then dissipate in the same random chance that brought them together.  Our communities are becoming long standing, stable and large.  The increasing stability, size and effectiveness of our communities is a natural part of our reclaiming what we once had before Christianity tore down all altars they could not steal for themselves.   With this growth come some growing pains and growing truths.

Our community fetches are again growing strong enough that those who inherit the mantles of leadership need to understand the mantles come with not simply the very real practical and material needs and tools to address the communities needs, but with some non-material but equally real forces like the community fetch, the self directing knowable agent of the communities collective soul.

If you have ever held one of these mantles, or hold one now, perhaps this will give you the awareness of what is acting upon you, and provide you the chance to work with that fetch to make a more harmonious use of both of your wills and skills.  If not, at least you will understand that what you are feeling is real, and that you do get to put it down when you are done with the mantle, or it is done with you.

Mantle

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Aesir, Asatru, Heathen, Heathentry, Uncategorized

Goddesses and Greatness

It is International Women’s Day, and that got me thinking about my daughters, about our goddesses and about what each has taught me about the other as my daughters have faced their struggles to grow up in a world that really isn’t that friendly towards women; something that as a man you really don’t notice until you have daughters of your own.

At Parliament of World Religions last year, there was a lot of talk from a lot of faiths about the Greatness of God.  Usually singular, usually male, but the female variety also focused on the Great Goddess with the assumptions of the three O’s firmly in place.  Omnicient (all knowing), Omnipotent (all powerful), and Omnipresent (all places and times present).  That part struck me as a bit bizzarre, for I have never found it to be true, and really never found it to be important either.  It seemed to be critical in these people’s beleifs that their god/ess be absolutely everything, or their faith was in peril.

Our goddesses are a varied lot.  Skadi is a stone a killer as you would want to meet, Ran and Nerthus could give Jehova a run for his money in the unknowable and unforgiving catagories, but the more cis normative goddesses represent interesting studies as well.  Freya is a goddess whose power is peer to that of Odin, whose sexuality is most powerfully her own, bound to no husband, and whose magics are very much able to work her will in the world towards ends of her own, not always known to any save her.  Frigg has foreknowledge equal to Odin himself, but shares little of it, weaving wyrd in the lives of men and women towards ends less obvious than the overt political and military stylings of her husband, on a scale that makes a single generation barely an eyeblink.

Frigg weavingFreya chariot

Nowhere do you see the three O’s implied of them; for the goddesses are great, their power so far beyond our own and our own understandings that we simply accept that much is possible to them that ought not to be possible at all. Wyrd weaves as it will, and even the goddesses cannot overcome it.  They are wise, but not in the same way, for each has a power and wisdom that is deep and distinct, where each might have an answer to a problem, seldom will it be the same answer, neither the tools used nor end sought being the same.  There is no doubt they are wiser than we mortals, but again, no implication that they know everything; only that should they seek it, little or nothing that can be known may be hidden from them.

Our ancestors accepted that the world was a complicated place, that there were many forces driving it that were beyond mortal strength to resist, or even understand.  They lived knowing that they could never possibly know everything, but that every scrap of knowledge they could have would increase their chances of making good choices and steering between those forces they could not stop or turn aside.  They did not need their gods to be the answer for why everything happened in the world.  Freyr didn’t kill uncle Olaf, the tree he was cutting turned unexpectedly when it fell, and it killed him.  Frigg didn’t kill your mother, childbirth is risky and this time she did not survive.  The gods and goddesses were powerful and wise, but not the root cause of everything that happened.  We were never told to turn away from the world, trust in the goddesses to tell you what you need to know.  We were taught to look to the world, to turn to your gods, goddesses and ancestors for wisdom in how to learn from the world, how to better understand and make better choices.

I look at my daughters, so different, yet so amazing, and I see the wisdom, the very great gift that our ancestors left us.  Our gods are not the source of all greatness, not the one truth of the universe.  Our gods and goddesses are greater than us, wiser than us, but enough like us that they can inspire us to find that within ourselves that can be great.

No one goddess teaches you to be a woman.  No matter how you will define yourself, there is a goddess, or even a god, whose path and tools will allow you to become the most successful version of yourself, the most capable and healthy version of yourself that you can be.

The goddessess are not perfect (the gods even less so), but that does not make them less worthy of worship, it makes them more worthy of worship because they are not so great that we must hurl ourselves at their feet in abasement knowing we could never be worthy of their regard.  No, they are so great that they are banners, beacons, inspirations and instructors to what we could be.  They are the great roaring fire that makes the tiny sparks inside us dare to blaze a little brighter.

The world is vast and complicated, it is moved by forces that simply are, and whose nature is knowable but immutable.  These forces are personified by the jottun, as described by our science, the primal forces that drive all life.  Wyrd weaves as it will, and before it even the gods must bow.  We do not have the luxury of blaming our gods or goddesses for our success or failure.  Some things are our choices, some are decided by our strength, skill, will and preparation, some by the will and resources of another, and some simply by forces beyond our will or comprehension, be they natural, political or economic.  Our goddesses never pretended otherwise, and the wisdom they have always offered has been to teach how to recognize those forces and move in harmony with them (or at least not to waste your energy opposing them), while learning how to develop your own potential to most powerfully affect those things that are within your power to change.

I sit and look at the requirement for all knowing all powerful god or goddess as the root cause of all things and see it for what it is, an escape from personal responsibility, an escape from having to learn, to adapt, to change.  I see this, and I am moved to bless and thank Freya, Frigg, Idunn, Ran, Nerthus, and Skadi for never selling us this fiction, for never claiming to be so great that we need never grow to become more to face our own challenges.  Our goddesses are not Omnicient, Omnipotent, and Omnipresent, they are wise, and strong, and will listen if you ask their aid in growing wiser, stronger, and more aware of how YOU may become greater than the challenges you face.

My daughters move into a world beyond the shadow of my sword, where they will face their own challenges more and more on their own strength and skill, their own wisdom and vision.  As they grew up, I never taught them the gods and goddesses would fight their battles, would make their choices for them, would tell them what was around the next corner.  I sought to teach them to love to learn, to seek always to know the world and themselves as fully as possible, to be open to the touch of the gods, goddesses and ancestors that they may draw upon them when they needed to grow beyond what they were to face the challenge of the day, or to find a new answer.  I thank the goddesses most humbly for providing them so many paths to greatness, so many powerful ways to be a woman, whole, sane, strong and successful, that they never feel tempted to deny or cut away a part of themselves to conform to some imagined ideal right way to be and to strive.

Most of all, I thank the goddesses for their losses.  I mean it.  Frigg knows more than any, yet with all her knowledge Baldur fell slain.  Freya and Skadi both faced trials where all their might and majesty availed them not, and they had to settle for what they could salvage.  How inspirational is it to have one who can never fail, will never be wrong, has never known loss, as your guide?  How can you not turn away, knowing you cannot measure up, knowing that you can’t ever be that perfect, nor can a perfect one have ANYTHING to teach you about your own loss and its cost.  How much greater a goddess or god that has power beyond your wildest dream, yet still failed.  Why would you hide your wounds, your shame, your fears from one who openly bears their own?  When your need is most dire, when your own feelings of worth are the least, it is not to the unreachable perfect you will reach, but to one whose scars tell you your wound may be survived, one whose tears tell you that they know the words you cannot speak.  Only from them can you receive aid when your own strength is spent, your own vision sees no more choices.

Death of Baldur

Our goddesses are not that great, and that is awesome.  Not Omipotent, not Omnicient, not Omnipresent; they are something far more important, reachable, understandable, and useful.  They won’t part an ocean for you, but when you are drowning in your struggles, they can and will show you how you can win your way out.  They are great because they inspire greatness in us.

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Aesir, Asatru, Heathen, Heathentry, Uncategorized

Salmon of Irony

It came to me in a whisper from an Alf.  I was making my offerings to the landwights, to the alfs and wights of the grove and stream when an Alf who usually dreamed in a throne like old tree that squatted atop a boulder the stream had dug a deep path around whispered to me.

“If you sought knowledge, you should return tomorrow.  There is a salmon you might catch who holds all you would know, and more beyond”

 

I was surprised and froze at the whisper.  The Alf had always seemed somewhat neutral.  The wights of the lands and waters had grown quite friendly with repeated offerings and gatherings, but the old Alf seemed to watch with the sort of aloof regard that reminded you not all intelligences worked at all the way that mortals did, nor judged by any standards we might ken.  The salmon of knowledge was a thing I had long known about from the old tales.  Sought by many, and caught by Fionn mac Cumhaill, it had fallen into the well of knowledge and knew all things.  Legend has it that the bard Finnegas sought it, but it was caught by Fionn who cooked it for him.  Burning his fingers on the fish removing it from the fire, he sucked the juice of the fish from his fingers, and thus when his finger was in his mouth, he would share the wisdom of the fish, yet the bard who consumed the rest received nothing, for it was given fully to that person who first tasted it.  Well, I learned from the lore and would not be sharing the catching or cooking of it, for I would have that knowledge that was implied by the alf as winnable from the salmon.

 

The next day was bright and fair, I worked nights so the day was mine anyway.  The morning sunshine was burning off the fog over the shaded stream and the laughter of the private school girls on their way to the high school in their kilts and blazers was a fine mix with the bird song of the poor daft bastards who believed the sun in the sky, not the patches of snow on the ground about spring being in the air.

 

I was no fisherman by choice, save by grenade when field expedient food was required, but my father and grandfather had drilled it into me, and my own daughters took to it like it was somehow in the blood, just sleeping utterly in myself.  I had a flask of fishing coffee (at least one third Lambs Navy rum by volume, and strong enough to raise the dead), and enough sandwiches to keep me going all day, assuming my fishing went as badly as my fishing generally went (save when using hand grenades, which is not permitted for civilians and not acknowledges as practiced by the military).

 

My lure was the best money could buy, and yet the salmon that seemed to flash jauntily past every few minutes did no more than brush the line itself as it taunted me in its repeated passes.  I took a splash of my coffee and poured it into the swift moving stream and asked the wights of the stream to favour my efforts.  The salmon shot through the dark cloud of my coffee in the water like a torpedo on final acquisition, then pivoted faster than a starling in flight to pass through the could a second time, jaws agape to take the wisps of rum soaked coffee.

“Well, the little bugger might be wise after all.  Given the choice between fish eggs and rum, I would go for the rum too”  I muttered.

Reeling in, I dipped my lure in my coffee and cast over the deepest part of the hollow, where the sunlight caused it to flash like gold as it arced towards the deep shadows over the water.  The salmon rose like a hurled spear and took the bait whole in his mouth so strongly I was almost pulled into the water by the force as my reel howled as the line spooled out.

Leaping Salmon 2

I weigh in at close to three hundred pounds, and routinely toss around skids and barrels four to five hundred without a second thought, so my surprise when I had to brace my legs hard against the alf’s boulder and lean back to retain my rod was justified.  This was a damned salmon not a swordfish or a shark!

My rod was far heavier than was needed for local fishing, being intended for coastal fishing and bigger prey, but I swear I had to let the salmon make way several times lest I snap the rod in two. We battled for over an hour, myself swearing like the soldier I was, and the salmon repeatedly leaping into the air about head height to show his knife silver form in the sparkling sunlight to taunt me.

Soon a few people had stopped at the walkway above to watch the battle, an old man, and a trio of high school girls.  I think my ravings were amusing to them, as the girls were giggling, and the old man’s rasping laugh was the counter point of an actual fisherman watching what was clearly the saddest excuse for an attempt he had yet seen.

 

I was about ready to keel over, my hands no longer had feeling enough to work the reel, they were fatigue clumsy like seal flippers, and my back was screaming in pain as my chest heaved like a blacksmith bellows from the effort no salmon should be able to draw from me, I felt like I had a sea lion on the hook not a salmon, yet every flash of its jumping form showed it not much longer than a sword, and lean for it.  I couldn’t understand at all when it turned and ran directly towards the shore, my line going slack so fast I struggled to reel it in without fouling.

I pulled the salmon from the stream with a joyful cry and it flashed in the sunlight like burnished silver before it flared bright as flame and my arms suddenly sagged as I held suddenly not a salmon, but a dripping wet, and fully naked pale skinned man.

I cried out and jumped back in shock, my hands dropping the reel and going for the long heavy knife at my belt in reflexive response to the threat that radiated off this man like heat off a burning tank.

 

The girls cried out “My god!”

To which he replied “Absolutely!”

The old man croaked out in surprise “You’re a man!”

To which the apparition glanced slowly down his torso to below and whistled in appreciation “I seem almost overqualified, don’t I?”

 

The details of his features registered, he looked like an actor made popular in recent Marvel comic movies, but when he turned to flash a fox bright grin at me, my eyes caught his and for a second I saw…….him bound screaming to a rock, the never rotting flesh of his own sons binding him, the agony of their death howling through his skin in never dulling horror, even as his weeping wife struggled to catch the dripping venom from the serpent bound over his eyes…….him laughing as he fastened a bridal veil on a red bearded giant, whispering how he looks easily as pretty as Sif did in it….him wandering with the same red bearded man and a tall one eyed old man in deep blue cloak through hall after hall, in mortal lands and beyond, through ages only some of which I recognized.  I knew suddenly who it was, the salmon I had caught.

“Loki”  I whispered.

Loki glance

“In the flesh!”  He laughed

His voice lost all humour, and he placed a finger on the tip of my blade and looked me right in the eye and asked lightly.

“Am I going to have to kill for a cup of that coffee, or did my blood brother remember to teach you something of hospitality before setting you free in the world like an actual grown up?”

 

Sheathing my blade was reflex, because my brain was not up to thought at that point.  I filled my cup full from the thermos, and was about to warn him that it was hot, when the foolishness of telling the god of fire about the risks of burning himself stopped my tongue from further foolishness. I handed it to him and he drained it in a long pull, unselfconsciously preening as the three girls descended in a giggling knot, cellphone camera’s out to surround him.

Pouring the last splash out he made a bow that would have put a dancer to shame and intoned regally

“For Har, as the cup will not be brought to me that is not also brought to him”

He looked over his shoulder at me as he strolled happily towards the school girls “He can find his own fangirls though, there are limits to even hospitality”

 

I watched in something between awe and horror as he chatted with the girls, and soon was dressed in the plaid kilt of one girl who had had leggings concealed underneath it, and the blouse of another who had a T shirt from gym strip as back up.  The kilt and blouse were both too small on him, and he left it half buttoned like the cover of a bad bodice ripping romance novel as he posed for picture after picture with the girls, letting them claim kisses as boldness and shyness both flared in them as they went full fangirl on what they thought was a man who played a god, and was in fact a god who played a man (who played a god, because only for Laufey’s son does that make sense).

 

He sent them off to school finally with a flirtatious swat on their bottoms, and ridiculously overdone blown kisses, which left them blushing and giggling in a star struck herd.  He struck a pose right out of a pirate movie from the forties for their final look back, before turning to the old man and telling him sternly “Let this be a lesson for you, when you go fishing, you had best be careful lest something far darker than you be fishing as well.  In your case, I would suggest chocolates and wine, as while it might not stop Ran from taking you, it might remind her the word has more than one meaning”

 

The old man, bowed and bolted with the look of a man who sees the cage to the tiger enclosure opening and him still uneaten, and would be through it before second thoughts were had about letting him go.  That left me sitting by my fire, not with the salmon of knowledge, but with Loki, Laufey’s son, a god of my folk, but not one who I had enough relationship with to be in any sense protected.

 

He held out his cup, and I filled it again.  He sat by the fire and gestured for me to join him.  I took a hit directly off the thermos, as I really needed it at that point.
“So, you sought the Salmon of Knowledge, and caught myself, more the Salmon of Irony if the truth be told, but I have all that pretty, and not so pretty knowledge you wanted.  Except you wanted it for free, and my doesn’t that sound like a good idea!”

 

He was the Salmon of Irony, the last phrase rang in my bones like a toning bell.  I had sought knowledge unearned, as if it could be had without price.  If there is no price in the earning, the cost paid in the end is always a thousand fold more terrible.  Ask Frey the price of shorting a single gold piece for the price of a blade, it cost the Vanir the war, and himself his freedom.  Ask our ancestors the price of trading their freedom for the promise of salvation for free, a thousand years of hatred, oppression, and ignorance we were still trying to crawl out from under.

 

His voice continued almost casually

“I mean my brother simply went to the well and got some, then to a tree for some more, and dropped by for a quick pint for inspiration to cover what hadn’t been thought of yet, so I guess you are following in his footsteps wanting something for nothing”

I burned with the shame of it, for I knew the tales he spoke of.  Odin traded his eye for a sip from the well of wyrd, not to drink deep, but only for a sip did he trade half of all he would ever see.  Upon the world tree Yggdrasil did he hang himself by the neck and impale himself with his own spear.  Nine days and nights he hung, sacrificed himself to himself to follow the tree where it led to all the worlds above, and to all the worlds below, through the lands of the living and the dead, through the primal fire and ice and roaring gap of nothingness to gain the knowledge of the runes.  To Gunlodd the giantess did he go in the lands of his enemies, win past them with guile and seduce her sweetly that he might steal from the giants the mead of poetry, for himself yes, but to share with us as well.  In each case, he paid the price demanded to take what was needful.  No art of his did he use to escape the price, nor to heal its harm.  Knowledge is valued based on the price paid and wielded with the wisdom found in its earning.  To have knowledge unearned is to have a weapon you have not the wisdom to wield, there is no chance it will serve you well, and every chance you will destroy what you would build or preserve with its use.  I was a fool of epic proportions.

 

I handed over two of my sandwiches and set to chewing the other ones myself as we sat in companionable silence.

 

“Half a loaf, and half filled cup, full friend found” Loki quoted happily

“Although the egg salad is nicer than just the bread, and the coffee is spot on m’boy.  So now that you are a full friend found, what wisdom shall I grant you, what ancient and forbidden knowledge can I give to you to make your mortal existence just a little more interesting before you keel over and find out what’s really next”

 

I remembered a quote from Hellenic lore, but it holds true for most of our saga’s as well, even where my own lord is concerned (or especially where the Victory Father is concerned, his gifts have bad records).

 

“Whom the gods would destroy, they first grant wishes”  I muttered

 

A booming laugh sounded in the glen, and a murder of watching crows and ravens answered in raucous chorus as Loki turned to me and raised one elegant eyebrow.

“Not as completely stupid as you look are you?  I begin to see why he bothered with you, dimly anyway.  Well boy, you caught me, what would you like from me.  All the knowledge of the gods, of the Jottuns, of the living and the dead, of what was and what will be are mine to know, even if they shouldn’t be.  What would you have of me?”

As he spoke, the shadows of the glen drew around us, and he shone in the sunlight as the only thing not ringed in shadow, even the fire seemed to flicker in the gathering gloom until only he was clear and the rest of the world only dimly perceived.

“I ask you accept the hospitality of my fire, accept this offering of coffee and sandwiches, and my praise for the gift of your company this day.  This I ask and no more.”

 

His eyes were cold and flat like a shark’s.  I stared into them and felt myself being weighed and measured.  No power I had, no knowledge, no weapon, no art would turn his will aside, whatever it was.  My heart hammered in my chest, but I allowed myself no fear, only the resolution to face what came, as I had brought this upon myself by my choice and would not run from its consequences.

“Done!”  He grinned, and I was free.  His eyes now alight with mischief, the earlier glimpse of his true depth hidden beneath the easy japes of the fool.

 

Leaping nimbly to his feet, he dove into the stream, ignoring it was in no sense deep enough for a man to dive at that point, and broke the water as a silver salmon to knife upstream with a speed a torpedo would envy.

I realized he had taken the clothes with him when he transformed.  He could take clothes with him when he changed shape, which means he appeared here stark naked because he chose to.  I burst out laughing, somehow, it seemed to be almost no surprise.

I would bring another offering to this alf.  He may have given me the opportunity to destroy myself, but he also gave me the chance to learn, even this late.  Knowledge must be earned if it is to be owned, that which you have for free owns you, for you did not earn the ability to wield it, nor to know its consequences.  I knew little, yet what I had, I earned.

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Aesir, Asatru, Heathen, Heathentry, Uncategorized

A touch of Coffee

Dana looked at her pictures taped to the mirror.  Her promises of what she was, and what she swore she would be again.  It sometimes seemed like a brighter idea than others.

 

Two years ago, her hair had been long golden waves that Sif would have been proud to claim as her own, a face darkened by sun, eyes marked by laugh lines and bright with the promise of tomorrow. The picture a year ago before going for chemo showed the glory of her hair crowning a face haunted by the fear that she might not see another spring, fixed smile painted over screams she dared not start lest she could not stop.  There was the strength that she held hard against the fear, but then, and even now, she had no idea how it could be enough.

Looking back at the face in the mirror, she took in the bald skull, the perfection of her bones had not changed, but the skin over them was drawn tight over the cheek bones, hollow in the cheeks, yet puffy around the dark hollows of eyes whose blue no longer shone like a spring sky, but the deep blue of the tidal surge that shattered ships and shore alike.

 

It took the better part of an hour to put on her makeup, her wig, and restore her face to the woman she used to be.  Her husband, her children, her friends were happiest with it.  She was happiest with it.  She looked in the mirror and did not know who it was who looked back at her.

 

Yule had passed, and with it the lives of some friends.  It was the dying time, the veil between the living and the dead was thinnest, and she would be lying if she didn’t feel the fingers of the cold deep in her bones, didn’t hear the whimpers in the quiet of the night, the memories of those times it was too much and she just prayed for it to end, for this to be the last night.  You can’t shake the memories of those nights as easily as stepping into the sunlight, for some chills are written in your bones, some screams written into your silences, and can never be forgotten.
Today she didn’t have it in her.  Today she didn’t care.  Let others shy away, let others shudder at the spectre of the fate her face whispered of.  Today she would not pretend she didn’t see, pretend she didn’t care.  Today she just didn’t have enough left to carry anyone else’s fear, or anyone else’s shame.

Coffee.  She needed coffee, and humanity could just frigging deal with it.

She scraped the windshield as the car heated up.  Her kids were already at school, and this was her time.  The coat was heavy and caught the wind when it gusted, she had not the weight she once had, and sometimes the wind sported with her more than she liked.  Her toque and scarf kept her warm, the cold Atlantic winds could bring colour to her pale cheeks, and make her fingers clumsy, but her strength was coming back and it could no longer make her tremble.  Caffeine, she needed caffeine.  She had an article in her laptop she wanted to read, but it was not something to read un-caffeinated.  One coffee there, and a second to take home should do her.  Her reward for a week survived.

She spotted the new coffee shop that had looked so interesting.  A pair of amber cats framed the sign Golden House.  Sure enough, two regal looking cats, about the size of lynx, observed the customers from a cat tree that dominated the wall opposite the counter.  The place was a happy untidy babble of conversations from a dozen dark hardwood tables that looked a lot like the benches of a mead-hall, heavy dark chairs, high backed and post carved offered hanging for coats and hats, as everyone had clearly done.  A roaring fireplace filled the wall opposite the window, and the firelight gave the place a warmth that made the outside winter hard to remember.  The smell of fresh coffee and mouth-watering baked goods made her stomach remind her she had not felt up to breakfast this morning, but perhaps now she might?

 

The owner of the coffee shop was dancing between the tables, there was no other word for it.  She had long golden hair and a figure that was as opulent as Dana’s had been before the choice had been to offer her breasts to the knife or her life to the cancer, and leave a battle long fought half won.

Goddess Freya true

Where you would swear there was not room between the tables to pass a ruler she spun and twisted with a heavy tray in one hand and a second that seemed to alternate between waving to those far away, and patting those she passed between, somehow letting each know they had her complete and joyous attention for one glorious moment.  It was easy to see why the place was packed.

 

“Take off your coat, stay a while.  I hardly ever bite unless asked nicely”  The woman’s voice rolled over Dana like the finest mead over the tongue, sweet and smooth, unleashing a warmth at its passing that bypassed thought altogether and undid the knots of tension, pain and fear that held her wound tight as a sewing bobbin.

Without thinking she shrugged off her coat hung it and her toque upon the chair before she remembered that she didn’t wear her wig today.  Freezing in fear, she tried to turn and snatch it back up again, but before she could, impossibly strong hands gently pushed the throne like chair under the bench, seating her at the table as smoothly as if it and she weighed nothing.

Turning to look at the figure who had pushed in the chair, her breath caught.  He was dark haired, wild maned with long and bushy hair and beard, a body long and rangy under a loose fisherman’s sweater with a woven pattern of giant wolves alternately devouring men and being torn asunder at the jaw.  He wore heavy boots, not quite work boots, nor yet biker boots, they were somehow brutally and uncompromisingly functional in the way a thing put together without any care for appearances can somehow acquire a stark majesty almost despite itself.  Nodding respectfully to her, he walked around the bench and gestured at the cinnamon buns fresh from glazing, still warm from the oven, and made a vague motion similar to a seated bow towards Dana that seemed to suffice to the owner as an order, causing her to laugh.

“My silent friend her is quite taken with you, and asks if you would care to have a fresh baked cinnamon roll with your coffee, I recommend the Egg Nogg latte, it’s a little on the rich side, but if you don’t allow yourself any guilty pleasures you will just die innocent, and we can’t have that now!”

 

Dana blushed and stammered something incoherent in acceptance.  Once she would have accepted such attention as her due, but since the cancer had robbed her of her colour, her grace, her muscle tone, her hair and breasts were only the most obvious of the blows she had taken, she had gotten used to fearing the look of her body, rather than loving it.  Granted her strength was coming back, and with it the grace she was winning day by day, step by step, thrice as hard to rebuild as to first win, but she was now not the woman she remembered drawing attention.

 

The owner glided back sliding two cinnamon rolls the size of dinner plates in front of them, the rich smell of cinnamon, the sight of tiny nuts and little candied fruit promising a heartier fare than the norm, made Dana’s mouth begin to water.

Tall Eggnog latte in large ceramic mugs joined the cinnamon buns in front of the silent man and Dana, and before Dana could muster her social defenses against men getting the wrong idea about approaching her as a married woman, the owner ran her hands with casual familiarity down the long shoulders and chest of the man, and pulled his rangy hair back to kiss him impishly upon the nose.

“Oh he does have an eye for the beauties.  He will never be any sort of a conversationalist, but the Silent One pays attention, and looks more deeply than his father ever did.  That is his second-best quality, right after knowing what a tongue is really for!”

 

Dana almost choked on her latte at the uncomplicated joy the woman took in casually discussing such things in a restaurant full of locals who roared with approval and pounded the table to her clear delight.  Dana knew there was no mockery here, but she was not willing to accept praise for what was long taken from her, the beauty she never knew she treasured until it was stolen by the thief that sought her life.

 

“I am hardly a beauty any more.  I mean…”  Dana made a hand wave that took in her bald skull, pain haunted eyes, and the flat hanging sweater that was stretched out for the generous curves she would never have again.

 

Sliding sensuously over to her side, the woman ran her hand across Dana’s bald scalp and Dana felt her entire body catch fire, back arching in helpless pleasure towards the fire of her simple touch, she felt her hands continue down the back of Dana’s skull and catch the necklace she wore under her sweater.

 

Tsking softly, the woman slowly drew the necklace from under Dana’s sweater and laid the simple Thor’s hammer below the hollow of her throat upon the soft sweater.

Murmuring softly, amber eyes burning into Dana’s blue ones like dancing fire, the woman spoke

“Such a kissable neck should be highlighted,  the hammer is a nice start, a statement of strength, but it needs a touch of fire to bring out your colour”

Taking one of the strands of amber that hung around her own neck, she softly ran the back of her knuckles over Dana’s collar bones and neck to fasten the strand of amber at the back of her neck, to lie half way between Thor’s hammer and her throat, drawing every eye to the regal curves of her shoulders and neck, the proud lines of her cheekbones and richness of her eyes and lips, the stark strength she alone could not see shining there.
Dana had not been with a woman since long before she was married, but her body trembled from this woman’s touch like it had not since those teenage days of experimentation.  Before her touch could arouse the defenses of a woman who had no intention of straying, the owner swayed away, to be replaced by the two large and graceful cats that now butted at her hands for attention from either side of the table.

Dana muttered a protest.  Voicing at last the fear that howled at her each time she faced the mirror in the morning.

“How can you say that?  I am not that pretty girl any more, I won’t ever be again!”

There was half a mile of pain and two full fathoms of fear in that cry, and it hung upon the air like a challenge.

It was the Silent One that spoke at last, his words ground like a blade on a stone, tearing away dross and damage to leave naught but the brutal purity of the naked edge behind.

“You are not the girl that didn’t know, nor the woman whom the foe found, you are she who won.  You are the face of victory”

Both their eyes were upon her now, the shining golden one who danced like flame, and the dark silent one whose eyes held the shadows of prices paid, and in them both she saw herself not as what she lost, but at last as they did, as she who won.

 

——-I have lost dear friends to cancer this year.  I have had had other dear friends who have won their fight at terrible cost.  I remember my father on his third bought with cancer, it was the fifth a decade later that would kill him.  He rewarded himself by getting his tattoo touched up.  He had got an eagle tattoo on his arm when he finished jump training in the Canadian Airborne, but cancer had carved long ropes of white like lightning all up and down his arms, through his tattoo, taking most of the colour.

When he got it touched up, he had the colour of the tattoo restored to full glory, but had the cancer scars outlines like living lighting where they defaced it, rather than having them coloured in to undo the damage done to the original tattoo.  I asked him why he didn’t hide that damage, and he looked at me honestly confused.  “Why should I hide, I won.”

 

Odin does hide his missing eye, nor Tyr his missing hand.  Our gods bear their scars openly, proudly, for they are the boasts of victors, the proof of prices paid, and victories won.  Our gods do not turn their faces from the scars of our life, not the inner ones, nor the outer ones.  The shame we heap upon scars and the prices paid by survivors is cowardice born of fear we might not have the strength to ever face such ourselves.

Freya is goddess of passion, love, and the old and terrible magics.  Hers is the raw, the brutal and primal magic of death and life, hers the first choice of the valiant dead.  Freya is goddess of that fire that screams its joy at life from the brink of death, and howls its ecstasy to stand upon the edge of the abyss and know by its own will, it will stand and not fall.

 

Vidar, the Silent One, Fenris bane is the god of prices paid, the god of leavings, the one who knows the cost of what others boast about.  He is silent, for he boasts not.  He is the god of deeds, not words, of paying the price to do what must be done, and salvaging what seems lost.  His boots are made of the scraps thrown away, yet at Ragnarok they will shatter the jaw of Fenris Wolf, for he understands what it is to grow strong at the broken places.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Aesir, Asatru, Heathen, Heathentry, Uncategorized

Heathen Music: Review of The Black Hat Society’s album Doom Country

Doom Country

https://blackhatsociety.bandcamp.com/album/doom-country

 

Hauk Heimdallsman is one of those Heathen artists that I have enjoyed the work of for a long time, and I finally got around to buying his second album, Doom Country.  I have listened to his stuff before, usually attached to cool videos or other things that Heathen’s make, and its one of those things that bug me when I have enjoyed the gift of Heathen art and not paid the artist.  A gift for a gift is our way, and when I bought the album, I got the kind of surprise you generally get for doing something the gods approve of, more than I expected.

The first two tracks, West and Doom Country were pure Odin inspired poetry filtered not through the lore of long forgotten and nearly irrelevant European Viking ancestors (yes I revere them, no they do not honestly shape the land I was actually raised in ), but the wild frontiers of the old west.  Anyone who has ever listened to Johnny Cash’s Ghost Riders in the Sky understands how the lore of the Wild Hunt followed our ancestors to the great plains of North America, and how the high and the wild awakened in the poets and story tellers of the wandering tribeless peoples who would one day call themselves Canadian and American something that had slept through the long dark Christian centuries.
Johnny Cash was a great artist, but he was a Christian, and it’s a handicap when understanding what the the storm is singing, what the thunder howls and the lonely prairie and lonely mountain whispers.  To have the lore to capture the spirit purely requires a Heathen, to have the language to communicate it to the folk soul of contemporary North American’s requires not just an understanding but genuine love of our own North American folklore, the explorers, pioneers, cowboys and miners, fur traders and settlers.

 

Black Hat Society and Hauk Heimdallsman have the sound of old style bluesy country, very much a Johnny Cash with a hint of Appalachian Celt and the kind of epic narrative that made the best country ballads last across the generations.  There is a poetry to it that owes a bit to Hank Snow and Louis Lamour in the sense that you can no more separate the music from the land that spawned it than you can the people whose heart it captured.

It takes a Heathen to really understand how to write Nine Steps, for those who know and revere Thor the song is his spirit written in the dust and blood of the old west, for those who do not know Thor from either the ancient lore or modern Heathenry, then Nine Steps does a beautiful job of capturing the essence of his spirit for those who may not have known they need his inspiration and example to face their own struggles.

I know that left free on the internet there is a certain stream of Heathen that likes to go a-viking and take what is shiny and interesting through wit and will…….but do try to remember we only raided our enemies.  Among our own, and those with whom we traded the rule always was a gift for a gift, and Hauk Heimdallsman and the Black Hat Society has given us a very great gift.  I not only found my purchase worth every (broke as post Yule parent) dollar spent, but left me hungering to find out what his upcoming album will hold for us.

 

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Aesir, Asatru, Heathen, Heathentry, Uncategorized, Yule

Hundred Faces of Jul

Yul

Around the tree they come
Joy and reverent awe
In the heart of the dark
Raising song
Bright flame of the soul
The Julfather comes

Second eye bright with love
Gift giver comes
Upon the night winds
Jul’s bright face laughing

Two streets away
Cold in the alley
A soldier coughs his last
Cardboard box his only hall
Battered battledress grown thin
Dead on the land he fought for
No home for the home come son

Howling Jul claws out his eye
For the Feeder of Ravens sees
Hospitality riven like foes shield
Strong sons cast to the streets like garbage
Wild Hunt rises screaming upon the night winds
Run before it
Souls and flesh the wolves will tear
Bright spears cold as the street’s own mercy
Summoned by our deeds

To the old, the sick, the lonely they come
Bright songs and baked goods
Presents and bottles
Hope stirs the flickering flame
Love binds those who feared they had no place
Frigg blesses, Holle smiles
Those who carry Yule in hand and heart
Weaving back those we might have lost

Two streets away
Cold in the alley
A girl coughs her last
Home to foster to street
Abused and used
Fallen through the cracks
Cardboard sign
Asks for the meal
That would have kept the cold at bay
Hard choices to get through the day
Hard drugs to help her forget
To get through one more night
Until she didn’t

Hearth mother standing
Above the silent daughter
No more to feel the hunger
No more to face the scorn
Frigg screams her rage

Beauty shed like illusion
Bright and terrible
Spear hungry
As the discarded child
She calls forth the hunt

Run before it all the night
No mercy on the Mother’s Night
For those who cast away
The gifts of innocence
The future of the folk

Mercy and Madness
Joy and black despair
Hundred faces of Yule
Hundred truths in the darkness

Will you heed the call to be open handed?
Or will you close fist and heart
Will you brighten with feast those who hunger
Or stalk sneering by
As the gods ride the night winds?

Bright the fires
Bright the songs
Warm the blood by spirits lifted
Yet the wind outside is howling
The Wild hunt rides
Run before it or die
For it holds no mercy
No more mercy than our streets
No more pity than our hearts
A Hundred faces at Yule
And each one we called down ourselves

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Aesir, Asatru, Death, Heathen, Heathentry, Pagan, Uncategorized

Won’t make Yule

Heathen Yule story

I had gotten old sometime when I wasn’t looking.  My body was a tracery of too many scars, a patchwork history of surviving things that should have killed me, and forgotten legacies of decisions that seemed brighter at the time then they deserved.  There was also the happy weight of enough good meals and good drinks to remind me that I wasn’t just surviving, I was living, and living as I chose.

I was sipping my morning coffee, watching the dawn think about risking the cold to happen anyway and trying to figure out which of the hundred things I had to get through before Yule I was going to work on next, or should I just kill some time on Netflix catching up on new releases.  I glanced at the window, and what shone back from the reflection chilled me to the point I could not feel the hot coffee that slid unnoticed down a throat suddenly ice cold.

“You will not make Yule this year.  You will not see another dawn outside my hall”

Half maiden fair and shining, half rotting corpse of grave darkness calling, Hel stared back at me.

Hel veiled

The face that ghosted in the window shone with an inhuman beauty and terror that affected me on levels beyond the conscious, deep in the primitive animal the urge to flee warred with the spiritual urge to abase myself before the divine presence that beat the air like silent thunder.  I had my scars for a reason, so both the primitive and the spiritual lost to the ego and will that lead me into, and out of most of a lifetime of trouble, and my mouth ran off without consulting me about the wisdom of cracking wise with a goddess.

“Come to collect my tired old ass yourself, have you?”

My mind had time to catch up with my mouth, and I contemplated having a heart attack on the spot as a reasonable option to finding out if Hel, goddess of the underworld had a sense of humour or tolerated sarcasm.  Fortunately for me, goddesses are somewhat harder to anger than employers, wives, and local police, or at least immune to my sarcasm.  She continued without bothering to address my mindless quip.

“I do not kill, nor does the earth kill the swallow in flight; it, and I simply await you when you fall.  You have in the past done me some service, and shown me some courtesy, so in return I offer you this.  You will not see another dawn.  I will see you before then.”

She turned sideways from the world and vanished, but as her dark aspect flashed past, the window frosted over like someone pulling blinds, and my coffee froze in the cup as a mute testimony to the reality of my vision.  Well….damn.

I looked over to the fireplace, there was about a days worth of wood there.  I looked out back to the wood bin.  There was about a weeks worth split and ready, and a couple of winters worth unsplit.  The wife was not good with an axe.  I mean she was a Girl Guide leader and could do anything camp related half decently, but honestly, watching her with the axe always made me nervous.

Knowing I was going to leave her my corpse kind of put a damper on Yule, but I could do a bit more than that.  I left off my coat, and took up the axe.  I put about two hours worth of splitting in.  My hands and wrists were aching from the shocks as I took a look at the bright pile of neatly split logs, and neatly piled kindling.  There, that was a wee bit better.

The song of the axe had settled me, as it always did. I went to wash my hands and found the sink full of dishes.  I cleaned them, as it just seemed like my last chance to show I cared enough to put in the scut work nobody enjoyed. So.  This was the last day, and I would not make Yule.  Well, take the day as a gift, and a gift for a gift is our way.  Yule is the season for gifts, so I had best be about it.

I had done more shopping than you would think, I just procrastinate about wrapping and mailing things because I hate lineups and hate the crowds of the malls.  I was out of time though, so I loaded my presents in my old army kit bag, and like a veteran version of Santa went to put some Postal elves on delivery duty.

Two hours out of my last day later, I had fired off presents to my wife and daughters, because I wasn’t sure if they would open something I left under the tree, I didn’t want the shadow of my death to make them shy away from opening them.  Instead, they would have to open the packages before they knew it was from me in the first place.  I sent off presents to my old friends from coast to coast, and if I broke a few laws about liquor distribution, its not like I have to fear arrest at this point.  The grin from that realization made the snarl of the waiting in line disappear.  I want the people I love to know that I was thinking of them right up until the end.  I may have been too busy to be there half the time they needed me, and been too much of an idiot to have heard half the times they asked for my help, but for whatever it is worth, they would know I loved them, and thought of them even at the end.

It was almost lunch time.  I knew my wife, who was a driving instructor, had a student with a road test at lunch time, and she would be waiting in the Motor Vehicle branch playing games on her phone during the test.  She honestly ate terribly when she worked, and I was the same.  Too busy to look after ourselves when there was so much to do, and so many people to look after.

I called in an order to the Greek place, and brought a full feast to surprise her while she waited.  I let her know that I was just at the post office, and got hungry in lineup and figured since I was next door, I would just pop in and surprise her.  The fact she was that happy I did told me I should have done it more often, but somehow unimportant things were allowed to get in the way of what truly mattered in life.  It took a visit from death’s own mistress to remind me what was important in life.  Add that to the list of my mistakes, its a thick book already.

As her student pulled into the parking lot, she smiled and gave me a kiss, thanking me for lunch, before getting up to watch the student pull in.  You can tell a lot about how a road test went by how the student exits the car, and it was less embarrassing than asking the student how they did.  I packed up the remains of lunch and then reached out and gave my wife’s ass a loving squeeze.  She squeaked and smacked me, but her eyes were twinkling and her smile made it clear she was equal parts flattered, amused, and annoyed.  It was part of my job to be inappropriate enough to remind her that I didn’t just love her, but wanted her.  It should go without saying, but at the end, you worry about whether you said enough.

“Love you.”  I said as I left, and her grin let me know it was the right thing to say.

I felt kind of bad about leaving her to clean up the mess, knowing I was going to die sometime tonight.  I mean, that is going to really make her depressed around the house, with the memories of our lives being overlaid with the memories of my death.  I was thinking about it as I wended my way out of downtown traffic into the quiet residential zones.

I came up to the stop sign, and felt a spasm in my jaw.  I absently took my hand to work it out, but it spread to my neck.  The ache was pretty intense, and I went to take a deep breath to push through it when I realized my chest felt tight like a jottun had wrapped his fist around it.  Ah.  Well, at least I won’t be at home.

I cleared the intersection and pulled off.  It was getting hard to breathe, and I was sweating bullets. I pulled out my phone and laid it beside me on the car seat. Honestly, if this was a heart attack, it did feel just like the spasm’s I got all the time from various spinal, rib and other injuries, but having Hel drop by and let you know tonight is the night more or less argued this was the heart attack kind, not the just living with the damage  five decades of hard living left you with.

I watched the sun set over the river.  The fog rose like a dragon above the river, stealing the sight of the waves as the cold laid its hands upon the earth, forcing the light to retreat over the horizon.  I felt the cold seeping into my bones with a heaviness that I had never felt before.

I dialed 911, but left the handset where it rested.  I muttered my location, and said something bland about chest pain, but honestly, there was something strange about the pain.  It was growing worse, but pain and I were old friends, almost lovers, and the strangeness of this pain was worth paying attention to.

The pain grew stronger and stronger, but somehow…….it was losing its grip on me.  I saw my vision tunneling in, I cast my eyes upon the last splinters of sunlight, and watched the cold dragon of mist rising hungrily from the brooding river.  There are worse things to see at the end.

Yule is the dying time.  The gods call upon us to gather together, to wassail hard in the heart of the dark, to feast and make merry, to exchange gifts and renew the ties that bind us to this life.  The veil between the world of the living and the dead grows thin at Yule, the Wild Hunt rides the howling night winds, and the fires of our lives flicker and are so close to extinguishing that without those ties, many who should live, will allow their fires to burn out, and surrender to the cold.

The cold took me.  Hel was awaiting, but on my last day I reached out to those who mattered to me and showed them I cared.  Words are nice, but honestly I lived my life through working for those that I loved, so on my last day, I worked one last time for those I loved.  It was enough.

 

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