Asatru, Heathen, Uncategorized

Wedding Magic

We came this day to wed Stephen and Nathalie.  To those who know them, this is a wedding between the roaring fire that throws back the night for the revels of the dancers in a hundred darken groves with the wild falcon whose grace shames the sun for the glory of the sky, whose eyes see ten thousand secret things and whose joyful cry would part the clouds.  Given that, there was little chance it would be other than magical.

It was the equinox, when summer waned and fall began.  We hang upon the change as dawn broke, at least I assume it broke.  It was hard to tell as the clouds showed us what happened when Thor chose to wring out every cloud in the sky at once.  Of course it did.  I was officiating a wedding for one of Loki’s beloved sons, so how could anything other than chaos herald its coming.  I gave offerings to Odin because of debts owed and Thor because he is the best husband of the pantheon and usually counted on to not be a dick about big things, but I set out to make sure the copies of the vows for bride and groom wind and waterproofed, that the fire for the land taking and was well shielded, and set about making sure I had backups for everything that might be missed, lost, or broken.  I am not paranoid, I have done this before.

Arriving on site, chaos was the order of the day.  A great untidy, majestic chaos marked the site as fair maidens flitted like so many fairies from the deepest groves on missions of bridely urgency, groomsmen and your humble priest fetch, carried, climbed, rigged, built, stowed, moved whatever the ever more mysterious women pointed to with the sort of calm that is possessed by deep sea sailors riding the crest of a five fathom wave with a ship that is probably not going to snap in half at the trough, so just relax and enjoy it.

I lit the fires for the land taking in the lantern that had served as Fire Token for the Gathering For Life On Earth those years I had done the opening and closing rituals, and had served as hearth-fire and focus for Frigga upon her altars when our own hearth was out of reach.  As we walked the ground, the wind rose and howled, and the flame in the lantern burned high and bright, but it did not bend.  It stood spear straight and defiant until the wind backed off in submission and I began to get a sense that chaos may ring the event round, but its heart would be a center of calm and blessing.

The site chosen by the bride showed her own depth of vision, for the Queen of the Grove stood ancient and arrogant in her power at the fences edge, a heavy skirt of mossy roots ringed her trunk and a crown of heavy branches thick with lush leaves swept majestically over the place where bridal party and groomsmen would attend.  One of my dearest friends and favourite priestesses, Violet, had attended with some of her wonderous mead, and I asked her to offer some to the Queen of the Grove for her blessings upon the occasion, and I will not lie, the hiss of the wind through the swaying branches faded to a soft and gentle whisper when she did.

The groomsmen came with the groom.  Carrying the gift for the bride’s family, and his ancestral token, they stood at his side like a wall of bannermen in imperial purple and black.  Stephen stood with his back to the path, his best man gripping his shoulder to keep him from turning until the bride stood at his side at last.

Scotland the Brave sounded over the glen, and a majestic sight drew every eye as Nathalie and her bridesmaids processed.  She was resplendent in wild greens and black, her makeup touched with vine and flower to match the forest fey mystery of her dress, and the windings of her own skin’s markings, the tale of her own progress of craft and power.  The wings upon her back seemed fitting as her beauty was otherworldly, fey, fair and also terrible in its intensity.  Behind her marched a rank of shield maidens, bright gowned and fair as they attended her as fairy queens attending Freya when she leads the wild hunt.
Bridal Party advances
As the bride took her place, I bid Stephen turn to face her, and when their eyes met, her beauty struck him like a hammer, and the pure elemental response from him drew such a response to him that the air between them danced with tension the axe borne by the bridesmaid could not cut.

They pledged their love, voices calm and controlled, sea deep and ringing not with passion, but with soul deep conviction.  In the back, a baby cooed happily, and I think the rest of us probably wanted to as well.  Gifts were given from each to the to the others parents in gratitude for the spouse they took this day.  Stephen gave to Nathalie his ancestral token,  shifting his duties from his mother’s hearth to the hearth they would form this day.  As she vested him with the axe, he tied about her waist the keys that symbolized that they formed a new hearth this day, and that together it would be theirs to hold, build and defend.

Nathalie and Stephen wedding

They pledged their troth, and with trembling hands, and trembling voices, pledged to meet each challenge together.  When Stephen spoke his vows, and I bid him to offer his own words to his bride, what came from a mouth so known for Loki’s easy laughter and swift jokes was nothing less than the pure and naked admission of his love.  It is a testimony to the skill of her makeup artist that her face remained so heartrendingly perfect, for both their eyes were tear bright after that.  I couldn’t tell you if the audience teared up as well, as my own were pretty blurry at that point as well.  When she answered both perfectly with her vows, and as soul baring honestly in her simple expression of love for him.  So few words to contain so much power.

I bound their hands to complete the blessing of their union, but in all honesty, I don’t think the axe could have separated their hands at that point, or their eyes.  But one duty remained, and I pronounced them man and wife and bid them to kiss.  It is a tossup to say which moved faster, but during the wedding feast the sound of knife on glass sounded so many times to demand a repeat performance that we established a definite eagerness in each of them to kiss at the slightest excuse.

Nathalie and Stephen kissing

As the feast wore on, the words from so many people told the same story.  Whether first Nathalie’s friend or first Stephen’s, both told similar stories about how Nathalie or Stephen brought powerful and healing changes into their lives.  Individually, each has been a powerful force in the community, bringing healing and growth where they pass.  Nathalie as a direct healer, and Stephen as the laughing jester, the one from whom no pain is hidden, and to whom no pain couldn’t be shared.

That they found each other shows that wyrd may just weave some people as they deserve, for rare as it may be, each of them deserves a partner exactly as supportive as they received.  Chaos ringed the event in quiet corners, stuff appearing and disappearing at random in such continual flow as to simply make you shrug and either put something out for the local fairies or flip Loki the bird for messing with all the guests at the wedding, but it was all in bright good humour.

It was a magical event in all respects, and it should surprise none that the rain began only as I drove away.  It was a day brightly woven, and the beginnings of a bright future for two special people we were blessed enough to see wed beneath the Queen of the Grove on the turning of the Equinox.

 

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Asatru, Heathen, Heathentry, Uncategorized

Weddings, Oaths and Responsibility

Dragon Rings

I have the very great honour and pleasure of joining two wonderful Heathens in matrimony this next weekend.  To that end we sat down and went through the wedding ceremony line by line, because weddings in Heathenry are not something we perform by rote in blind faith, but an act of will, magic, and law with very real consequences that is entered into with joy, with love, and above all else with care.

Oaths are without a doubt the most powerful tool for both building and destroying worth in Heathenry.  Oaths have power, and a worthy oath that is kept shines in the eyes of the gods and ancestors, bringing not only worth but luck to those who have upheld it, and to those people they cherish.  Oaths sworn carelessly, can do very great damage either through the breaking of the oath, or through terms of the oath whose strictures are either unequal or punishing to one party.  This brings disharmony, ill will, bad luck and suffering as inevitably as night follows day.

New Heathens soon realize the power of oaths, the magic of them, the very real potential to build their worth and without proper guidance often enter into oaths damaging, dangerous, or disastrous through failure to properly and soberly examine the reality that wyrd weaves as it will, and we have control only over our own actions, not what tomorrow or ten years from now will have woven for us.  Through no fault or choice of our own it is easily to be either forsworn or trapped in an oath that is now a burden or harm they must bear going forward.

Love is the single most powerful force in the universe, far more potent than death, and far more motivating than simple survival.  Love brings out the best in us, brings out the greatness that frequently no other force can unlock within us, and makes us dare to bring our dreams to life.  Love is however does not bring you immunity to wyrd, for it is no bar to fate, circumstance, and change.  Love does not guarantee good outcomes, it simply inspires us to dare to try.

Couples come together in love with the expectation that their love can allow them to bend wyrd to their will, and that together they can face whatever comes and win for themselves a life that will hold more joy for facing whatever comes together.  In this, they are right, for together they do stand a much better chance than they could alone, but better chance is not the same as a guarantee.

Sitting together with two good and worthy Heathens as they go over their vows, I saw the care with which each strove to make sure the vows offered no harm to each other, that the oaths left them free to use their will and their conscience to strive ever to do what was best for themselves and each other, even when they might disagree as to what that was.

Limits were set on their vows so that if wyrd should will that the day came that they were no longer a benefit to each other they could acknowledge that and part ways while all that they had shared remained a bright blessing to each.  Limits were set so that if one should pass the other would not be forever bound to a life without love.  Limits were set so that the vows responsibilities fell evenly upon them both, that each should be equally sharing in both the burdens and the blessings of their union.

We who are called by the gods to join our folk in holy marriage do not simply ask they swear their love, but their troth to each other.  It is not enough to vow your love, but you must also vow that you will put in your effort, your work, your care to make sure this relationship will grow strong and healthy, will give back three fold for the efforts each equally contributes.  We do not care about the genders of those we marry, for love and troth find expressions as manifold and wondrous as our holy gods and goddesses themselves, but we do care about how they love.  Do they promise both love and care?

Love without care can be damaging, and to bind people in a relationship that is unequal, unhealthy or damaging is not a blessing but an offense in the eyes of the gods.  To swear oaths without limits, to bind without any thought of the consequences of the binding is careless, thoughtless and dangerous.

I look upon these two worthy heathens as they look upon the oaths they would swear, each to the other, before their family, friends, ancestors, gods and goddesses, I see such a level of care, thoughtfulness, and responsibility that makes the power of their love completely positive.  It is the acceptance of limits, the demand for care, consideration and careful attention to reciprocity that makes it clear that this is a love that will be matched with hard work and conscious effort to strive always to face each challenge together, to bear equally costs and efforts, and to strive always to treat each other with respect when differences arise.

This is what a worthy oath looks like.  This is what our gods and goddesses sought to teach our ancestors to do to strengthen each other in the face of whatever the world can and will throw against them.  I cannot take oath that their marriage will be two lifetimes of bliss, but I can say that such joy, luck, and worth that two human beings could win together from the struggles that wyrd will weave for them shall be theirs.  For as long as they stand together, their days, their luck, their lives will be the brighter for it, as will the world for having such a love woven within it.

 

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Current events, Uncategorized

Death of a Dream, September 11

Twin towers
I was driving to work in my first civilian job after leaving the military when I heard the first plane hit. I told my steering wheel that was bullshit, there was no way an airliner hits the world trade center by accident. Someone had finally done it, used the plane as the weapon. I had time enough to wonder if this was what I had argued would happen when the Berlin Wall fell, when the Cold War ended and the madmen and revolutionaries of the world no longer needed to clear with Moscow or Washington if their pet atrocity was to be sanctioned.
 
There were rules to be followed, lines not to cross if you wanted daddy warbucks or comrade commie to back you, and the other side had backing already. You couldn’t fart without running it past your advisers, or you would be dead by the end of the week when they pulled their support. Then the Soviets fell, and you could tell Washington to go pound sand, you could go your own way because the enemy wasn’t getting any backing either.
 
fall-berlin-wall-cold-war
In 1989 my world changed.  The Berlin Wall fell and WWIII seemed to go from a when to a thank the gods it won’t happen.  Everyone in the world rejoiced for peace had broken out.  Everyone except historians and soldiers.  We had seen this before.

When the Ottoman Empire fell, funny how almost no one today knows who I am talking about, but the Ottoman Empire was the Muslim threat to Europe that forced the largest defensive alliance in history to that point, the Austro-Hungarian Empire to exist.  Dozens of states united only by the desire not to be under the despotism of the Ottoman Turk swore allegiance to the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and all of Europe provided support.  A single source of unity and limit to internal struggles with a common foe that must always be kept in check.  Until they fell, they we were free to be stupid as we wanted.  The Austro-Hungarian empire began to collapse as soon as the common foe was removed, one heir got assassinated and the next thing you know the world is busy burning in WWI.

We got stupid and made a peace that made sure we did it again one generation later.  That left us with the situation more or less like the bad old days.  Two big alliances, one in the east, one in the west.  This time instead of Ottoman and Austria-Hungary it was Warsaw Pact and NATO.  This is the world I inherited.

WWIII
 
Its not much of a secret anymore.  I trained to serve with the 4th Canadian Mechanized Brigade as part of the US VII corps to die defending the Fulda Gap when the Russians came through with the kind of numerical superiority that makes acceptable loss ratios that ants might blink at if they had eyelids.  If we were right, it would take 72hrs to kill us, and our nations would eventually rule the wreckage.  If they were right, we would die inside of 24hrs and the ethnic Russians would rule loot the unburned parts of Western Europe while most of their allied Eastern European states and all of Germany were covered in a blanket of burning corpses oddly untouched as the chemical weapons used had left it too toxic for flies or ravens to pick at the millions of corpses.

Not sad that particular scenario didn’t happen, but when the Berlin Wall fell and the Warsaw Pact dissolved, the proxies we had all held on leashes all over the third world suddenly realized no one was on the other end anymore.  The Soviets could afford to be, and we didn’t care anymore.

The mad dogs we all used were off leash, but who cared?  We had peace, who cared what the puppets did, we were done with that game.  Time to enjoy the dream of peace.

Canada, bless its ignorant little heart gutted its defense during the Cold War because, hey no one was really going to do it right?  Then we decided to gut the corpse of our military when the wall fell because there would never be another war again right?

From November 9 1989 to September 11 2001 we dreamed of peace.  A dozen years of peace in centuries of war, and somehow we believed it was true.  It was never true.  Those dozens of years no one was fighting the brush fires to keep the world from burning down and on September 11 2001 the fires we lit on borders we no longer cared about ignited the World Trade Center.

My grandfather saw Europe behind a 17 pounder in a Sherman Firefly.  My father saw Africa through the iron sights of an FNC1A1, and I followed him on the same rifle before we switched to the C7.  My world never really had room for the dream of peace, only the realities of war.

While other people obsess today on the fact that September 11 is the day the sheep realized the sheepdogs in uniform were actually protecting them from something real.  My family has worn dog tags long enough to have no illusions about this thing called peace.  What we do watch is the Doomsday Clock.  At times the world has been close enough to extinction level nuclear war as to be within two or three minutes of midnight.

In 1991 we were over 15 minutes from midnight, we had stepped back from the abyss.  We had realized that our politicians rhetoric was going to cost the lives of every human being on earth and we woke the fuck up and backed off.

Doomsday Clock
In 2018 the clock stands at 2 minutes to midnight.  The brink of extinction level nuclear war.  1953 was the only time it was this close.  This time it is over nothing more than the internal posturing of failing strongmen.  No great clash of cultures, this time we will see our species risk extinction for talking points and poll numbers.

You can remember the Twin Towers a lot of ways.  I remember having thought my days of having to die to buy time, in the hope that we could stop the world itself from burning were done, only to find out some madmen had brought them back.

We had less than one generation that was not in the shadow of extinction.  The Doomsday clock had been rolled back to safety.  Today we remember September 11 in different ways. Many are going to be howling their hate and rage to the sky, demanding blood and vengeance.  Many are going to take a look at the cost of foreign policy choices and realize short term benefit can be long term suicide, and that maybe investment in stabilizing things makes more sense than being able to kill the enemy fifty one times over, rather than just fifty in a scenario that leaves nobody left alive on either side.

The clock stands at 23:58.  Two minutes to midnight.  Again.  Chose wisely.Two Minutes to Midnight

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Asatru, Heathen, Heathentry, Uncategorized

A culture of failure vs a culture of pain

Odin Tree

 

For those who haven’t the background on my personal situation, a few months ago I was injured at work and fractured my C5 vertebra and suffered a serious concussion.  I lost effective sight in my right eye, balance and memory issues and host of other fun side effects.  I am just about finished my rehab to go back to work.  This was a bit of a culture shock for both me and those who were working with or for the program.

I have nothing but good things to say about the work of the HIATS (Head Injury Assessment and Treatment) program run by Worksafe BC.  They really are the best at what they do, but they come from a limited and limiting culture in one respect.  They have the best program I have ever seen for getting a handle on the thousand little pieces you need to learn, train, and test, to improve your overall recovery and capability.  You have no memory of learning how to think or understand your environment, of how to understand your body position, so having to relearn it is a process that is not instinctive, is not even entirely logical without a lot of background people outside the discipline do not have.  The HIATS program is very good at taking a huge impossible task and breaking it into a thousand knowable, achievable bits, and teaching you about how they fit together.

Then they go and suck at the one thing they should have been best at.  Goals and motivation.  Coming to the program as damaged as we all are, I was riding denial like the last living horse ahead of a grass fire, because the reality was I could see no way to improve a general level of incapacity that left both body and mind inoperative in any functional sense.  They took the task from impossible and unknowable, and made it both possible and knowable, in tiny bit sized chunks you could actually commit to believing you could do.

We come to the big education on goal setting, and the make their first real screw up.  They teach failure.  They teach literally how to set about failing to reach your goals and being OK with it. Gods above, they literally taught us how to win all the battles and then go ahead and try to lose the war anyway.

 

The lame rides a horse, | the handless is herdsman,

The deaf in battle is bold;

The blind man is better | than one that is burned,

No good can come of a corpse.

 

-Hávamál v71, Bellows translation

 

The gods do not prepare us to go gently into that good night, they teach us that we must rise to face our challenge without flinching.  They teach us that our struggle is not over, our chance to win victories, build worth, earn glory, to contribute to our community and family does not end while we still breathe.

 

We are taught that wyrd weaves as it will, before it even the gods must bow.  There is no judgement implicit in being defeated by a force you could not face, nor in being broken by something stronger than your flesh or mind could withstand.  You are judged by your choices, by that which was within your power.  Your victories or defeats are measured not by the outcomes you desired, but by how effectively you wielded those skills and abilities you possess, how you chose to best meet your obligations and duties as you understood them.  Even the gods don’t simply get to decide to win.  Winning or losing a given battle, be it personal or military depends on a whole lot of factors beyond your power to control.  Wyrd weaves as it will, but your choices are your own.  Take responsibility for what you can change, and do not break yourself pretending you have the power to do what the gods themselves cannot.

 

The HIATS people when setting goals seemed to take a look at the goals that people set and say simply, you can’t do that, you have to accept failure.  They teach this so effectively that when the room full of people is asked if they have achieved their goals for the week, all in the room save me stated they had not.  Everyone in the room, and the instructor accepted that failure was the constant truth they needed to accept.  The goal they strove to reach was the far distant horizon, was ever beyond reach, and every bit of progress they made towards it was to be measured and deemed a failure.   If the end goal is the first thing you will every accept as a win, you will live in failure, and even if you stand in Stockholm to accept a Nobel Prize, you will judge your life to be one of almost perfect failure because by the time you stand to accept your Nobel Prize, you will have learned ever single day of your life until now that you have been nothing but a failure and you would not know victory if it stalked you down an alley and shoved a crown on your head.

This is poison, these are lies, this is civilian foolishness.  The army, bless its cold iron heart, understands goals a whole lot better.  The army, bless its unforgiving somewhat self destructive soul, understands how to make battle feed battle, how to make struggle fuel struggle, how to make victories spawn victories.  Hear some truths, they are not complex, but they are profound.

 

“Step by step walk the thousand mile road”- Miyamoto Musashi The Book of Five Rings

 

“You can always take one more step soldier, just give me one more.  That’s it, now give me one more”

-every damned NCO who ever trained me as a private, and me when I did the same for my juniors

 

I come not from a culture of failure, but a culture of pain.  Pain is a drug, it’s a measuring stick, it’s a record of achievement.  Pain is the hangover of victory, the dregs of the cup of achievement.  Pain is a power source, if you mix it with pride.  Pain is supplied by life and your struggle, but pride, pride you have to manufacture.  Pride is forged in the fires of your struggle out of victories.

The army knows victories, it lives on victories.  Examine the history of the wars that shape our world today and you will see the history of Western Armies surviving disastrous defeats and long humiliating retreats before returning and retaking not only the ground originally lost but moving on to final victory.

 

Those who survive understand they hold their first victory there.  Each step of ground, each small change we fight for is a victory.  When you are smashed to your face, unable even to move, the battle to crawl is your first.  To crawl fills you now with power, for the pain of struggling to do that merges with the pride of having done that much and drives you to seek to raise your head.  Pain and the joy of raising your head fills you with pride of a second victory and you wait until your shaking limbs have enough that you can drag yourself to sit.  At this point you are almost high on the combination of pride and pain, drunk on victory to the point that no amount of damage you have received will be enough to argue that you are staying down.  You may not know how you will rise again, but it is a given that you will.  The truth of the armies method of instruction, is the truth my own mad one eyed god whispers in our ear, once you accept you are not afraid of the price, you can be killed, but you cannot be stopped.

Choose to live in victory.  Pay the cost in pain, in sweat, and in tears, so that you may know the laughter, the joy, the achievement that can be yours.

Take the rhetoric of both sides out of the equation and look at one of those impossible goals that one of my fellows in rehab had dismissed.  She wanted to lower her blood pressure ten points.  She was told this was not an achievable goal.  Horseshit.

That is an end goal.  Break it down.  What are the components contributing to her current blood pressure?  Well there are the symptoms of her concussion, which she is in physio to work on, so that is already a work in progress.  There is her current cardio level, well she can set a goal to increase her cardio by 10% duration and intensity a week until she has hit all the targets for her age range.  That she can do.  There are the dietary considerations, she can look at those elements of her diet that contribute to higher blood pressure and make the changes in her diet to reduce those.  That is measurable and achievable.  She can include the meditation practice as part of her life outside rehab and take active part in reducing her stress levels by guiding herself to let go those things she does not need to be worrying about from moment to moment.  She can work with her doctor to see if there are any other underlying conditions contributing to her current blood pressure that she has not addressed already.

Each piece of the “big picture” is much smaller, much easier to define, has easily measured and defined sub goals that can be undertaken to make real definable progress in the larger quest to drop her blood pressure ten points.  In all honesty, by the time she has won victories in the dozen smaller parts, her BP may well be below the target and her overall health increased to the point her entire system is more stress resistant and less threatened by either BP or other medical conditions.  More to the point, she will know, not think, know, that she has won a hundred victories to get here, and her next goal may be won with another hundred, or twenty, or two hundred other similar victories.  She will have had to let go of individual goals that were beyond her power to achieve but been able to find alternate goals she could reach that would work around the point failure sources to put her end goal back within reach.

 

Tyr lost his hand, and Odin his eye, Thor stands with a fragment of millstone lodged in his skull yet these highest of our gods have never used their power or magics to remove the scars of their loss from their continence.  They do not see scars or wounds as losses, but marks of victories.  There is no shame in scars, no shame in the empty socket, or sleeve.  No need to hide cane, crutch or wheelchair.  That you have paid the price to survive marks you as a victor, for you rose again to take up the struggle.  Our gods expect you to be marked by this life, some bear their scars openly, but not all wounds show on the skin. Some wounds are hidden in the mind, or written in the body in ways that show in functional loss, not outward deformity.  All these are simply the weavings of wyrd, the hand you are dealt.  You are not judged by the hand you are dealt, but how you play the cards you have.  What choices you make are how the gods, the ancestors, and you if you are wise, will judge yourself.

Success or failure of your struggle is personally important, because the material world gives cool prizes like better jobs, promotions, name recognition, respect, or just a cool cash flow improvement, but that part depends on a whole lot more than your personal efforts.  It is even harder to accept when the person you are fighting for is a loved one and not yourself, but the facts remain, you are responsible only for those things within your power.  Learn to define your victories inside the realm of the possible and you will learn to put your energy into more of the winnable fights, and generally know better success.

 

I had a granny, technically a great grand aunt, who had five strokes before she died.  I saw her in the aftermath of the third one.  She didn’t recognize me, but she knew I recognized and loved her.  She gripped my hand and squeezed it.  In her eyes was a twinkle, and the half of her face that worked she smiled a soft smile.  You see, she understood.  She had lost this before and won back most of it.  She was not dead, she was not done, and she would not stop fighting until she had it back again.  She greeted me by name and offered me a mint as I smuggled her Harvey’s Bristol Crème sherry into her during the last year of her life, able to pour for both of us with only slightly unstable hands.  She understood how to walk the thousand mile road step by step, how to stop and appreciate each step as a victory, and smile as she took the next.  She died smiling, having known only joy and victory in a life others would have defined as hard, but she did not.

People look at the way I view my life as a series of struggles and battles as cold and inhuman, but I learned it from granny.  She knew each breath, each step, each word was a hard won victory, and she lived a life of almost constant joy because of it.  Pain is a coin like any other, if you can spend it to buy victory and joy, why wouldn’t you?

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Aesir, Asatru, Death, Faith, Heathen, Heathentry, Uncategorized

Last Call

Story first, and then the bit you won’t like.

Gallows Tree

 

The community was in shock.  One of their own was dead by his own hand.  Bear had been loved by all, a laughing figure, forever the roaring heart of the party.  One man who always had time for those who were struggling, for those who were hurting, for those who were lost.  He was in many ways like a bear, too large for life, and his bumbling rambling progress through life and its spaces left a certain amount of chaos and spills in its wake, but laughter coloured those spills and memories for everyone.  The news that this laughing giant would no more loom in every picture, that his booming laugh and off colour remarks would no longer trigger laughter and pained groans in every gathering was just starting to sink in.

 

Angus was the leader of the community, its most frequent priest.  He and Bear had also been inseparable.  The stories of their exploits were half the boasting history of the kindred, and half a cautionary tale of lessons learned, and mistakes survived.  Ellen was the communities voice, the one who could take what people meant, what peoples deeds sang of, and put it into words where often the people of the community couldn’t.  Heathenry was not old in this generation.  It was an ancient tradition, but the reality was that it was killed once, and lived again, much like Bear had, in an untidy, shambling, boisterous progress that lurched more or less forward, powered by shared love of each other, and devotion to the gods of their folk.

 

Angus and Ellen had made arrangements to gather the kindred together in this time of loss to process their grief, and to begin making practical arrangements for funeral services, for gathering distant friends and family for the memorial, and taking care of any outstanding commitments Bear left behind.  The bar was one that had hosted many a meet and greet, many a planning meeting too large for people’s homes, or where there wasn’t notice to book a hall.  There was the old barman looming cheerfully keeping the drinks pouring and lending an ear when people got too pained by the group talking about Bear’s life and his loss and needed to be alone to vent, to cry, to rage, and to question.

 

The old man looked like a hundred miles of hard road, a face that looked like it had seen every pain and horror of this world and not been impressed.  He moved with the sort of jerky motion of one whose body had been broken so many times the various bits were in constant negotiation about what was going to work and what was going to fail this time, and he was going to carry on regardless.  His eye was cold, flat and hungry like a shark in one moment, then flashing like lightning when he flashed a devil may care grin, or the gentle mocking smirk that invited you to share the sort of joke that only those who have been through hard times could understand or dream of laughing at.

 

Ellen moved to the bar, drawn from the circle of light, the deep ringing praise of the mourners by a wound she couldn’t define, let alone staunch.  It was her job to put into words what the community needed to say, but she could not understand this, could not accept this.  Not this.  Angus was telling no less than the truth.  Praise was given for Bear, and all of it was earned.  That just made it worse.  He was ALWAYS there for them.  Always ready to listen.  He was a soft touch for a sob story, but a master at calling you on your BS.  He did so with humour, and usually found a way to laugh at himself when he did it, but he gave what was needed in a way that disguised it as what was wanted, even when the truth wasn’t really what most people wanted anyway.  He was always there when she asked for help, or even when she needed help and didn’t ask for it.  That is what had the rage so thick in her throat she could not swallow, and throat so tight she could not speak.  Rage, pain, shame, combined to take away even her ability to grieve.

Ellen slumped onto the barstool and made a vague gesture at the racked bottles, but the grey shaggy head of the barman just shook as he decanted a wine glass filled with sun bright mead, rather than the blood dark whiskey she had indicated.

 

“Mead to remember, whiskey to forget, brandy to savour and wine for regrets.  It’s too early to forget about a loss you haven’t finished feeling yet”  He said, not ungently.

Glass of mead

 

Ellen flashed her eyes at his, seeking any judgement in them her anger could latch upon, any excuse to let her storm of emotions lash out in simple rage, but the barman turned to wipe the pristine glasses he hung in the overhead racks with the care of a dwarf setting amber in Brisingamen’s perfection.   His face left only the shadow of the eyeless socket facing her, as he hummed tunelessly as he worked.
Ellen sipped her mead, the sweet honey fire of the mead recalling so many festivals, so many feasts, so many long nights of lore discussions, so many nights of ridiculously, even childishly foolish games played with Bear’s untidy company as part of a small group or large.  Sweet as each memory was, each one only brought with it the bitter dregs of the words she was screaming inside, but had not dared to speak.

She slammed the glass down harder than intended, and her words rasped out, low hurt and angry, vibrating with a rage and pain that only by shreds of her will she kept from screaming.

“Why didn’t he call?  Why didn’t he reach out?  He was always there for us, did he think we would not answer, that we would not be there for him?”

 

The barman charged her glass again, the bottle rolling in his hand as smooth as a sword for a fencing master, and with the quick head snap of a raven who spots his next meal, his one eye caught hers in open challenge.  His own words were a question just short of mockery.

“Your friends are over there, in the light, sharing memories and strength.  Your kindred are crying on each other shoulders, sharing their pain, bleeding out their wounds, coming together for healing.  Why are you here and not there?  Do you not love them?  Do you not think they love you?”

The glass of mead snapped the barman’s head back like a punch as Ellen dashed it in his face.  Her rage broke free, the pain, shame, guilt all united in a single lightning bolt of pure transforming rage, and she rose from her seat, casting the mead in the barman’s face like a spear into a charging foe.  Her words rang like a challenge and fell with the fire of her rage and iron of her will.

“How DARE you!  I love these people as I love my own blood, closer than half the blood of my birth family.  There is nothing I would not do for them, and they for me.  What the hell do you know about how kindred care for each other?  I am only here because some pain cuts too deep to share, and I don’t want to hurt the people I love!”

 

The barman thrust his face right into hers, pinning the wrist with the glass to the bar as gently as a new father grips his newborn daughter, white teeth flashing as her open hand slapped his face loud enough to sound like a pistol shot.

 

She froze in shock, never having struck another human being in anger before, but he waggled his eyebrows at her and smiled a quick grin of a man who has been slapped many times in his life by one woman or another, and always deserved it.  Then his eye went flat and cold, and she felt herself falling into its depths, frozen in the same fear a rabbit felt turning the corner of a tree and finding a waiting wolf.

His voice was low and quiet, not quite a whisper, but she found herself straining to catch the ghost of a voice he spoke with.

“So you think Bear loved your community any less than you did because he felt some pain cut too deep to share, and didn’t reach out to you all?”

 

She slumped onto the stool and began to cry wordlessly.  Her wound now open and bleeding whether she wanted to let the words out or not.  She felt the burning of her hand and seeing the redness of it in the shadows of the bar realized she had struck the barman hard enough to numb her hand.  Sick horror at her loss of control caused her to babble incoherent apologies.  The barman grinned at her, an expression of innocent joy so at odds on his old wolf face that it drew a smile through her sobs.

“Don’t worry about it darlin’.  I have the face that just calls upon pretty girls for slapping.  It’s a curse I have to live with.”  He waggled his eyebrows suggestively at her as he poured a straight double of Crown Royal whiskey into a glass for her.  With a wink, he continued.

“One on the house.  Forget about that little tickle.  I had it coming, and you are already hurting enough”

 

The rye burned like pain given form, but warmed like love remembered.  She sipped in silence until it was done.  Then gestured at her mead glass, and with an extravagant bow, the barman refilled it.  As she sipped, and looked at her community coming together over Bear’s death, the wound of his death shone stark upon all of them.  Each bore the wound differently, for each had known him a different way, but his loss was like a piece torn from all of them.

 

“How could he leave us this way?  How could he do this to us?”

 

Ten minutes or an eternity ago, she would not have dared to speak those words, never admitted rage against what Bear had done for taking his own life was part of what she was feeling, what they were all feeling.  The barman had cut loose her defenses, until she had felt ridiculous enough holding them, to finally let them drop.

The barman took the mead bottle and extended it towards her glass, but wordlessly she covered it with her hand to signal she was not having another.

The barman nodded, and carefully gazing past her at the Kindred gathered together, he raised his chin to point at their bright gathering as he began to speak.

“They have a good party going there, your kindred does.  I have always loved your parties.  You come together and grow stronger, grow wiser, grow together.  It’s a great party, and you are all better for it, but there comes a time your done with the party, and its time to go.   You don’t want to throw a damper on their party, you don’t want to be the ghost at the feast, and gods forbid, you don’t want them to get the idea the party wasn’t good for you, or that they gave you less than everything you needed, but its time to go.”

 

Ellen could barely see as she got up to leave the bar.  Her tears burned as they fell, burned harsher than the whiskey, but they burned now with sorrow, with loss, with pain, but no longer with rage.

Fumbling at her purse, she looked for her keys, until she heard a cough.  Turning to look at the barman, she saw her keys in his scarred fist.  He grinned and tapped his empty socket miming a wink with his sightless eye as he whispered.

“Bear knew one truth, even when you have to leave the party early, you don’t risk hurting someone else.  The cab is waiting for you outside.”

 

Bear had been a part of the community; a bright thread wove through all of their lives.  His laughter and words would ring in memory, even as some of his greatest mishaps would ring in story and song long after the original witnesses were dust and ash.   He had not been cut off from his community, not been abandoned by his community.  He had not turned away from them because he didn’t feel welcome.  He had been welcomed, been loved, been kindred, until the time came that he couldn’t face tomorrow and couldn’t bring himself to ask for help.

He didn’t fail them by choosing his end.  They didn’t fail him by not seeing what he didn’t show, by not hearing what he never said.   Last call had come for him before the party was over, and he didn’t want to wreck the party.

She might not agree with it, might never agree with it, but she couldn’t hate him for it.  Tomorrow, she would try to find the words to help her kindred understand it too.

 

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I will admit I should have addressed this earlier.  I should have addressed this a few bodies ago.  I was a coward.  The words are difficult, and the truths unpleasant.  The reality is that if I speak the truth, some who are hurting are going to chose to read this as support for suicide.  It is not.  I have been fortunate to help more than a few people get through the low point where a permanent solution to a temporary problem looked awfully attractive.  If there are any better solutions out there, do not hesitate to reach out to your community because the reality is no amount of pain or work on our part to help you through things is any where near what we will all pay if you chose to opt out rather than reaching out.

That is one fact.  Here is the second one, the army taught us early never to second guess the man on the ground.  No one else knew what options they saw, what resources they had when they made their choices.  Hindsight is twenty-twenty and it is bullshit.  We weren’t there, and I won’t condemn someone for a choice they made on something as personal as their own life.

There is almost always a better option, almost always a way to make it through the next fight to win a tomorrow that is worth the price you paid to get there.  Almost always.  The last truth is just this, we all die.  We have one life to live, to build worth, to face challenges, to make mistakes and try to grow into a person that won’t make the same mistake twice, to laugh, to love, to dance, to create.  We have one life in which we must accomplish all that will ever be ours, the deeds that time and the grave can never rob from us, but then we also have that one death.  That death is not a maybe, not a possibly, that death is a given, and only its date and mechanism remain to be written.

I don’t advocate suicide as a solution, but I don’t condemn a person’s life because of the manner of their death.  Death is the period at the end of a sentence, the silence at the end of the song.  It does not erase what went before, not the bright and not the dark, it is simply the end.  When one we love is taken from us, it is natural to be angry and whoever and whatever took them from us.  When they are taken by their own hand, there is always more damage as we both rage against them for going, and against ourselves for not being there when they needed us.

Strive to always be there for the people that you love, strive to actually hear even the things that you don’t want to hear, that make you uncomfortable when the people you are comfortable with in their normal social role express needs, doubts, fears, or simple exhaustion you aren’t comfortable about seeing in them.  That you can do.

You cannot make them reach out, cannot make them speak out, cannot make them want to continue.  That you cannot do, and will only hurt for believing otherwise.   This will please no one, anger many, but maybe, just maybe it will help someone.

 

 

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Asatru, Heathen, Heathentry, Uncategorized

Miracles, Magic and the power of Stupid

Althing 2018 Feast

As those of you who know me personally know, I suffered a wee bit of an injury in June.  I broke my neck at C5 and suffered a serious concussion.  I lost a lot.  I had serious problems with balance, memory, and I lost most of my sight until I learned that by patching my right eye I could be shade functional single eyed.

I should have been killed, or at least paralyzed, considering the force of the blow and the location of the break, but when you are a priest of a one eyed hanged god, its not unheard of to walk away snap necked and one eyed.  I can take a joke, even one written in that level of pain, it means I am still breathing, and going home to my family.

My family has been nothing but amazing, even when I am being more stupid than normal.  My daughters and wife (the three first lovelies on the left) have been conspiring to keep me functional not only enough to help my recovery, but to do my duties to my Heathen community.  They didn’t ask me to do this when hurt, I refused to pass off my duties to others because you really can’t beat stupid out of me short of death, and I love my family and community in ways that are more sincere than rational sometimes.

This is why I must speak of magic and miracles, because if what I brought was the power of being too stupid to accept the limitations of my body when I had duty to those I love to perform, my community returned that love in full measure, and brought both magic and miracles to prove it.

Just past my daughters sits Nathalie, and she came with her massage table to work her arts upon my body and spirit, and drew from me tensions and pain with such dramatic success that my body straightened like a bow being unstrung under the touch of her hands and arts, far too gentle for the force she applied.

Far down the table, near the head where I sat as host you will see Diana Paxson, who journeyed far north from her home, and across the border simply to work her arts upon me as well.  With the calm assurance of Egil in his saga, she worked her runes upon me and I felt the strangest thing when she commanded me back into balance.

Diana and John
I saw the sight from my eyes which had been endlessly shifting for over a month, which had resisted every bit of power medical science could bring to bear, and indeed which those practitioners were preparing me to forever learn to live with the loss of, finally snapped back in sync.

I rose from bed, rather faster than I should, the flow of power in my body far, far stronger than it had been.  My eyes worked, my sense of body position (part of the balance that tells you the vertical orientation of your body at the moment) finally telling me the truth.  My shoulders hung loose and low, not hunched up to my ears in a protective huddle.  I could see.

I have a lot of recovery yet to do, but I gained from the women in my community more healing in a single day than in the month and a half since my injury; and more, they gave me hope.  Even if it faded when the event energy left me, I knew the body still had the ability, the mind still had the hardware, and I COULD GET IT BACK.

In response I drank too much, talked too much and spent entirely too much of my strength sharing with my community, celebrating with my community, but I took no harm, because the man I was at that point, and am still, had far more to give than the man that walked into the hall, half broken and half blind.

There was a time, about a decade ago, when I thought magic was beneath me.  When I would never use the traditional practices of galdor and seidr left behind by our ancestors even though I knew they were part of traditional practice, retained and valued for centuries by the community as essential.  I retained the later syncretic and Christian suspicion of magic, its trappings and practitioners.  Also, there was the same sort of video game/movie overlays that confuses flashy display and showmanship with folk magic as our ancestors knew and practiced it.  If you talked to one of them a thousand years ago, you would be looking for the aid in healing, not some flashy light display, but somewhere in the intervening centuries we confused special effects for non material changes in the physical universe.

I had the honour to see the community that I love show that what I gave to them was valued, and that they cared in turn for my family and health in full measure, and bent their own arts and will to make such changes as they could to make it better.

I am not magically healed.  I am magically booted about half way along the curve of the acute concussion recovery process, and able to draw upon far more of my own internal resources than I had before to complete the process in a shorter time and to a greater degree of completeness than I had any right to expect.

Do not take this as a call to ignore medical science.  On the contrary, this has prepared me better to use the physiotherapy and cognitive training to overcome the remaining deficiencies in neck and brain to speed my return to full work and other function.  Take this as what it is, an example of how the collective love of your community, focused through the traditional arts of our faith through its more learned and potent practitioners can have a powerful beneficial effect in your outcome.

My wife and daughters, my kinsmen and women, and two wise and magical women combined to use their arts and care to overcome my injuries and stupidity combined and speed me along the road to recovery.

We forever ask the gods for aid in time of need.  We forever reach out to those of our community when they are in need.  It is helpful to remember the words we use to mark the gifting cycle when we make an offering.  We speak of receiving blessings from the gods to the earth to us, thus we return our gifts from us to the earth to the gods.  The gifting cycle is also expressed as from us to each other to the gods, from the gods, to each other to us.  We are the aid that was sent, the gift that was given.  We are the proof the gods do not ask us to face this alone.  It took the returning of my second eye’s sight to see it.

I tell this to everyone else, but forgot it when it came to myself.  I did preface this article with the admission that I was frequently stupid about such things, but the gods can overcome even that through the power of the community.

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Aesir, Asatru, Heathen, Pagan, Uncategorized

Troubling Ancestors, and ancestor worship

Ancestor worship is important to a fully developed Heathen practice.  Not everyone is going to get there.  We live in a Post-Christian western society, and its god-centric legacy will honestly be centuries in undoing.

Our surviving literature does not help as much as it should, because while every scholar will begin with telling you how sad it is we don’t have much about what everyone knew and did every day, because the saga’s only talk about the stuff you saw once a year, or Uncle Olaf saw when he was young and actually guested in the King’s Hall, but you will never see in your whole life; casual readers come away with the mistaken impression that the god centered tales describe daily life.

The truth is most of ancestral practice was as hearth based as any of the pagan tribes well into recorded history.  The spirits of the hearth and home, field and flock, lands and waters were the objects of daily devotion, along with one more class; the ancestors.

Nine is a magical number in Heathenry.  As in nine times out of ten a viking analogy is a good way to spot a bad idea shined to a high polish.  I am hoping this is the tenth.  Your ancestors are a chain that connects you to the very roots of your soul…..well sort of.  There are chains as in necklace and anchor chains, and chains like chain mail, and ancestor worship is very much like only one of those two options.

Broken Necklace

This is a necklace.  At the first bad link it breaks.  It has a few bad links, and is broken.  If you were relying upon that for connection, you are lost, as whatever the chain held is gone now.  There aren’t a whole lot of families that don’t have bad links in the chain, and this would leave us all broken and cut off if that was how our connections to our ancestors worked.

Frigg is not a Norn to simply measure a thread, and cut it when wyrd call’s for its end.  No, she is far more.  Frigg is a weaver of wyrd, a weaver of lines, of blood and oath, of love and duty, of lives and families.  She is a weaver for she knows all threads, and all chains break, but weaves do not.  Bad links, toxic ancestors, lost connections, the wound of adoption all leave holes in the chain, but the whole survives.

Chain mail hole

There are breaks where weak links failed, holes where bad links were cut from the whole to save what remained, yet the mail is still strong.  This is how you can choose to leave it, but Frigg is a weaver and so is life.  You can choose to let the failure of blood leave you always lesser and weaker, or you could choose to live, to love, to create other bonds.

Chain mail patch  Some links are different sized, and some of different metal, some are bound in different ways, but when they are woven together that which was sundered is whole again.  Whole and strong.  Some links don’t share your blood, your race, your faith.  Too bad, they seem to have woven in nicely anyway.

Ancestor worship is not reaching up the broken chain and stopping when you hit the first bad link.  How can that sustain and ground you?  How can that link you to all who came before, and connect you to every part of who you have yet to discover you are?

Ancestor worship is Frigga’s work, Volund’s work.  It is weaving and forging both, it is hard, terrible hard work, for you build those connections strand by strand, link by link.  Not in one direction, but in all.  Chains do not grow stronger with length but weaker, as it is the sum of their weaknesses that limits them, not the sum of their strength which defines them.  Chain mail is different.  Each link passes through many others.  Strength is shared, weakness is limited, and stresses distributed evenly.   Much more force can be absorbed by the mail than any link could take, and no matter  if some links should fail, the mail itself remains, and remains strong.

How can the adopted reach out to their ancestors, if their ancestors be not known to them?  Well that is not entirely true is it?  The ancestors of your direct blood are not known, but if you began at that pretty chain patch above, the silver-steel links do not exist.  Bronze rings, copper rings, blood rings must first be passed before you will reach the steel rings of your own blood again, but trace your fingers across the mail and you will see the truth.  Beyond the whole the mail is intact, and you have been given the links to reach across to get there.

When the shirt was forged, each link was silver-steel, yet it was sundered by life, by wyrd.  Others filled in those holes.  Adoptive parents, foster parents, friends, cousins, uncles, those you named such but were bound only by ties of affection not blood, yet did blood’s duty.  Sometimes those mentors you found not at home but through school as teachers, leaders, co-workers or even NCO’s if you went into the Army seeking your home.

They forged those links in your life, filled those holes.  You do know their names.  You can reach them.  You can begin your practice there, and through them reach the spirits of those who went before, and reclaim the parts of you above and beyond the break.

If you accept the necklace model, you will reach backwards only until the toxic ancestors, the hurtful or damaging ones.  If you stop there, you will lose all that went before, and much of what you are because of it.  We are not part of some decorative necklace, or pretty ribbon.  Frigg is the weaver of the folk entire, of all of our bloodlines, and she weaves stronger than any mail.  You cut out tangles like you cut out bad links, and you weave beyond them, reach beyond them, heal the rift with those links that may not have been the same steel, or threads of the same blood, but whose will it was to protect when the steel that should have been there would not.

We reach past the bad links to reclaim what was ours from before birth.  To cut yourself off from all above the toxic link is foolish, but to believe you must accept the toxic is likewise foolish.  You do not deny the link was real, but it failed, and has been cut out.  Wyrd weaves as it will, and includes plenty of scope for bad choices and painful consequences.  Neither Frigg nor Volund will hesitate to cut out bad threads, bad links, tangles and flaws, and weave around them.  There is a lesson for us there.

Imperfect links, bent links, rough links, should we cut those out?

Chain Mail patches

We are ALL imperfect links, rough, bent, scarred, twisted, wrong coloured, inverted rivet or ten thousand other forms of imperfect, and that is what gives the whole of the mail the strength that it has.  We don’t cut out the imperfect, we understand the strength of the link is based on how many of its neighbors it weaves together, not how thick its own metal.

Ancestor worship is just that, connecting us to more links in all directions, allowing us to be stronger than the bare steel of our own ring, but the full strength of all who came before and all who touched both their lives and ours.

Links are bound by blood yes, and a thousand other things.  Love, duty, oath, friendship, and experience.  We don’t have to face this world in terrible isolation, our ancestors understood this, and are ready to stand beside you.

For those who think the faith of your ancestors matters; nothing in our lore mentions the faith of the people we are dealing with, neither the living nor the dead.  They knew of other faiths and other tribes, and judged it not to matter.  They knew all our lore and judged it so.  We know but a small surviving part, so I suggest trusting them.

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