They Walk With Us (but we stopped paying attention)
I was asked why I was driven to write my book, They Walk With Us. The answer honestly has been riding me like a hag for years now; we need to relearn to pay attention to our world. I am not kidding. We walk almost oblivious through this world of ours, focused so hard on our phones, on our jobs, on our opinions of this or that about the world that we are so close to blind that the fact that our society functions at all becomes something of a minor miracle. I can’t fix that, and won’t pretend to.
I am a Heathen, an Asatruar, or one who is true to the Aesir and Vanir, the gods of my northern European ancestors. To be a Heathen is to be world accepting. That means a few things, some of them so simple you miss how profound they really are. To be world accepting means that you accept the world as it is, not as it ought to be. To be world accepting means that you accept that the holy, the horrific, the magical and the mundane, the living the dead, and the yet to be are all experienced here. This world. Here.
Are their other worlds? Yes, but you aren’t on them, so pay attention while you walk this one, you are missing almost all the important bits, and you don’t have that much life to get it right, so work harder at it. Is there life after death? Who can say, there is definitely death after life, and as I alluded to, it is approaching quickly, so again, hadn’t we best get on with actually living this one in this one chance we are given?
The touch of the gods, the spirits of the land and waters, the embrace of our ancestors, the magic and beauty of the world, and the very real power of the bonds we forge between each other are felt here, in this life, in this world, and we are choosing to miss most of them.
Occam’s Razor tells us the simplest explanation for a thing is most likely the correct one. It is a wonderful tool, except when you actually start paying attention it can make it hard to accept your preconceptions of a world without wonder, and force you to consider the fact that there may indeed be more hands than the ones you see shaping the events of our daily lives. There have been too many times where lives have hung in the balance, where the course of lives turned on a series of low probability events strung together in a way that strains the possibility of coincidence alone a fair bit past the point of credibility. Can I swear I have seen the hands of the gods at work. No. Can I swear that I haven’t? No.
When you read the lore, when our gods are depicted as walking among us they did so unseen until they left, with their presence more inferred than explicit. They did not speak from burning bushes or toss thunderbolts about when they walked with us, they offered choices where none were present, and added a little immediacy to the consequences of those choices, for good or for ill. They strained probability in ways that would give contortionists back trouble, but they seldom broke it, and left us to either learn from it or not, again as we chose. Little miracles, second chances, no more than that.
When I studied the martial arts, and when I studied biology, a simple truth seeped into my awareness; to use vast amounts of power to accomplish a thing is easy, but to use such elegance that little, or even no external force at all can accomplish the same thing is awe inspiring. To use a thunderbolt to accomplish something is more impressive to those who have not called fire from a battery of 155’s. To accomplish the same end with almost no power is awe inspiring. The hand of the gods in this world is implied in the elegance of the improbable not the flash and thunder of the impossible, which in fact usually equates to the untrue.
When I was driving to visit my father in Hope in winter time, I was in an area beside an ice covered lake that the road passed a few hundred feet above. As we passed a bare stretch, a car coming the other way lost control and spun across the ice and my path. I avoided him with the skill of too many years driving on ice, and watched him hit the only tree in 150 meters of road and escape a plunge of hundreds of feet through the ice and the cold of the grave. He was badly hurt, sustaining injuries that could easily kill him, except that I was an Industrial First Aid attendant with a full kit, who just happened to be passing the second he needed help, when we hadn’t seen another car in half an hour. I stabilized him and called an ambulance in an area where I have cell signal perhaps one time in twenty. I was an hour from the nearest Ambulance station, but I got one inside of twenty minutes in an ice covered spot in the middle of nowhere.
This fellow had been on his way to church and couldn’t believe his bad luck. I laughed at him, and explained to him how hard the gods worked to keep him alive. I pointed out the series of low probability events that were required to all happen at once to end with his being packed off in an ambulance with nothing more than a concussion that would be gone in a few days. It was not impossible, but the required chain of lucky breaks combined were extremely unlikely. Little miracles. The hands of the gods or just random chance? I can’t say, but I am more thoughtful for asking the question, and more appreciative either way.
I lost my job when I had a serious back injury that will leave me with permanent chronic pain and disability. Yes I know it ought to be illegal, but the joy of the law, rather than morality, is you can honour the letter of it by violating its spirit like a naked nun in a biker bar. I had lost everything, as the combination of pain, spasm, drugs, and months without sleep had driven even my family from me (for really good reasons, honestly). So, like any good Heathen, I have duty still, I will do my best to meet it somehow.
Miracles are something I don’t believe in, yet I also don’t believe in failure of duty, so given no options but miracles to fulfill my duty I set about striving for one. I got more than one, and in ways that stretched probability beyond the breaking point.
I sought a way off the drugs, to master the pain and spasm. I used the path of ordeal as hinted at in the lore of our people, not because I expected it to work, but more because if you are stuck hanging on the metaphorical tree for nine days and nights (or ninety as it were), you may as well poke about in the branches looking for runes, since you found the spear and noose so easily. I got something. If I could explain what, I could retire a millionaire, but I will settle for being drug free and with pain and spasm that are actively suppressed while I am conscious to a level I am not even aware of them. A little old lady working a grindstone in a vision handed me a bundle of something wrapped in rags, and when I opened this bundle the ability was in my head. Not asking anyone else to buy this, but that was my experience and it worked. I admit being pretty much functionally crazy at the time, so I am willing to allow that this didn’t actually happen, except of course that I have these abilities that I can’t account for and really can’t see how I could have spontaneously figured them out without noticing. Occam’s Razor is still hacking madly at the walls of this one.
I went back to the Army with the Rangers, because if you could do the job, they could care less about anything else. Oh I could do the job. Pain and I are old friends, especially in the field, and given a rifle and rough country I am as close to paradise as you can get with your clothes on. Looking for work civvy side there was a job that paid shite wages as a temp position on the opposite side of the city where honestly it would eat a good portion of the wage just to get there and back. Yet, I wanted it. I did the initial interview, and got the temp ID tag to go to the meeting. I forgot to turn it in on the exit. Although I have never done this before, I put the tag on my altar and prayed for that job, even though it was on the low end, temporary, and on the high cost end of the spectrum of jobs I was seeking. I got called back for a second interview. I had no money gas in the tank, and no money in the account, actually I had one dollar and nine cents in the account. I was delivering papers as a side job and the cheques were late, again, and I didn’t have the money even to gas up to do my papers, let alone cross the city to do the interview. I was snarling in rage as I pulled up to the pump and set it for one dollar nine cents pre authorized fill on a forty liter tank. I was lost in my thoughts as the gas pumped, waiting for it to stop, and it didn’t. I filled my tank on 41 cents. The price on the pump read 1.09 cents per liter. I got the interview, got the job, worked four months on a two month temp position as the bottom man on the totem pole, got cycled through each of the positions in turn, and then they fired the manager, and offered me his job as a permanent position for quite a bit more money. This actually happened as I have set it out. I do not claim this is the work of the gods, but I tell you, it saved my family, and it was a miracle (or series thereof). This series of events has deeply enriched both my family, and my spiritual practice in such a way that I have a hard time not seeing them as inexorably bound together.
I have passed through life being present to save or change lives by random chance a hundred times, because honestly it’s a big planet and stuff is going on all the time and my skills are fairly broad and hardly unique so you have a decent chance of having someone useful nearby. That part I hardly ever give thought to. Sometimes the world presents you with not only a chain of circumstances, but words of power and truth that open your eyes to choices you could never have seen on your own with such absolute elegance of effort that you are hard pressed to see how anything other than deliberate design my a master craftsman could be at play.
The big religions of today talk about big miracles happening long enough ago and far enough away that there can be no question of proving them yea or nay. Our ancestral tradition had the gods moving in much more subtle manners, their miracles those of opening possibilities, of bringing us to the opportunities and leaving it to our own hands and will to see if we will seize the opportunity, if we will take a deeper look at the choice before us and choose worth over expedience, and know the difference in success between following right strategy or simply tactical expedience. Our ancestors walked through the world as the most practical people in history, but with the open wonder and joy that came from knowing the gods and ancestors walked with us. I think I have come to the same understanding. It is my hope that through my stories, I can share with people some of the wonder I see in the world around me, and open your eyes to the shadow of the hands of the gods, wights and ancestors in the world around us.
I am convinced that this world is infinitely more wondrous than we give it credit for, that our gods and ancestors, and the spirits that share this world with us are in fact there for all of us to see and know, only we have got out of the habit of looking. Perhaps together we can start to remedy that.
John T Mainer