Aesir, Asatru, Heathen, Heathentry, Pagan, Uncategorized

The Road Home

 

Thor-Vikings-Odin-Loki-panels-1566510-1920x1080.png

A thousand years ago, our ancestors understood the traditions we try to embrace today.  They lived in a world where they walked with their ancestors, knew the wights of the lands and waters, made peace with the jotnar of the high mountains and raging rivers, learned the alfs of the wild places.   The gods and goddesses held a place for them that was something we can only imagine, for they learned how everything fit together from their first breath, first step. There was no word for what they did, for it was no more possible to separate their practice from their life, than it was to separate their breath from their body and continue to live.

 
A foreign smoke stole that breath from the body of our ancestors, and the living faith died a long time ago.  The path they walked we cannot.  What they knew, we can only guess at; speculate from scattered puzzle pieces half understood.  That is fine.  We have chosen to walk out of the smoke, and breath again the living air.  We have chosen to once again learn to listen to the whispers of the ancestors, to look at the lands and waters, fields and forests as important relationships, as sacred trusts, and not simply a catalog of resources to be stripped and utilized until fully expended.
The ways our ancestors took for granted are half remembered dreams to us.  The relationships they held are matters of speculation and argument for scholars to whom the points are of only academic interest.  That is fine.  I am a soldier, son and grandson of soldiers.  The truths that historians argue over the battlefields of the past contain a hundred facts, and very few truths.  Those that come away from such fields may have been aware of only a few of those facts that brushed against them most intimately, but they carry away truths the historians cannot understand.  Some truths are found only by living, by walking the road, not by studying the map from a safe distance.

 

So it is with the road home.

I will admit from the beginning, I am one of Odin’s.  He found me in basic training, and pointed me towards the community in the dark days when it was long odds you would ever find another Heathen, let alone a community of them.  It is so much easier now.  Partly due to technology, and for that I give full praise to our society for its advances.  Partly that is due to the communities of people coming together in that metaphorical wilderness and struggling to build something.  Let’s be honest, something new.  We are rebuilding the alters, recreating the tradition.  We may study the latest developments for any scrap they can give us that advances our understanding of the road our ancestors walked before us, but that road we lost in the smoke centuries ago.  We build a new road that began when we first came together as groups and chose to bring the practice of honouring our gods, wights, and ancestors back into our lives.

We could not do it alone.  We lost the way.  We are not alone.  The truth is, we may have lost our way, but the land was still the land, our dead were no farther from us, and the gods never left us.  We lost the knack of listening, we lost the habits of valuing, we lost our way, but our guides awaited us.

The gods are forgiving, or at least have enough of a sense of humour to put up with the ten thousand things we get wrong, the minutiae we obsess over.  We get a lot of it wrong.  I know that.  We do it differently in a large number of ways, and I would say that they are not all wrong.  We are not following the road of our ancestors.  That was lost to us.  We struggle to build a new road.  Who is with us on that road is important.

 

Odin stands first among the holy kin in this generation, and it is right that it is so.  I do not believe that this was his place in peace time for the bulk of our people, but it is the reality today for one reason alone.  Odin is the greatest recruiter, the guide that has lead the most of our folks home.  I have seen Odin as the gateway drug for so many future Freyrsmen, Thorsmen, Tyrsmen, Frigga’s women, Freyaswomen.  His place is earned a thousand times over for bringing so many of us to where we could share a community together and begin to connect again to all the holy tribe, to begin to rebuild the relationship with the wights, the alfs, the ancestors.

There is only one god that I have seen do as much to bring to our halls, to our hearths as many folk who were lost, hurt, and in danger.  Loki.
I will leave aside the argument about whether his worship was ever a part of our ancestral tradition.  That is an argument for scholars about what was.  Our ancestors did not have antibiotics, toilet paper, or defibrillators; I am not looking to ape what was.  I am trying to bring the sacred back into the lives we live today, and of all the gods doing the work to guide us on the road we are trying to build together, the one who shines second in his work to bring the scattered folk home is Loki.

 

Loki is a part of our road forward.  Our folk are largely not given the chance to be born into Heathen households and raised in Heathen communities.  Our folk still grow up largely in Christian communities whose “truths” are at odds with our own, whose fundamental assumptions are diametrically opposed to our own.   For those who have in their heart the call of our gods, these foreign ideas and those that would enforce them as morality are deeply damaging.   For so many, the toxins of these foreign beliefs are enough to seriously harm, and in a very real sense, kill.   Enter Loki.  Trickster, breaker of stasis, flyter of the sacred, mocker of the righteous.  Loki has saved so many who saw no way out, and brought them by a thousand twisted paths to join us on the road home.

Odin may well not have been the highest in the time before, and Loki may or may not have been a god to be honoured inside the hearth and Frithstead, but in our generation we must give honour where it is due, must return a gift for a gift and acknowledge that not only does Loki deserve to be honoured as one of our gods, but in this generation, we must accept that he should be held high among them.

When I came to the Pagan community, I was told not to let anyone know that I was Heathen.  Like it was a dirty secret.  Don’t let anyone know you are Heathen until they know you well.  Once they did, then you got this token acceptance (you are all right, you aren’t like them-them being all your spiritual kin).

Now in the Heathen community, I hear the same song, slightly altered.  Don’t let anyone know you honour Loki, until they know you well.  I have to call it.  This was bullshit twenty years ago when Pagans held a view of all Heathens that actually matched none of the Heathens they actually knew and worked with for years, yet they accepted as true for every Heathen except their own token exceptions.  Its bullshit now.

 

There are going to be those pointing to individual idiots in the community and screaming “Look that is a Lokean!”  To which we can all point to five Odinsmen, Two Thorsman and a Tyrsman at least as objectionable.  Those are the exceptions.  Turn and look at the ones making your community work.  Look at the hard working people putting on the events, sacrificing to make our scattered organizations stumble along, and so often, these are the Lokeans we are working so hard to demonize.

Enough already.

We are coming together to build a road.  A road home.  Our guides are the holy gods that walked with our ancestors as they walk with us.

We are Heathens, we are supposed to follow the gifting cycle, we are supposed to repay a gift with a gift, and honour our obligations.  Loki has earned a place in our community in our lifetimes, he has done so in the coin of the blood of our own folk; the blood of the folk he saved from loss, and helped make whole again.  He has done so by bringing so many of them to us, to our community, where they can find fellowship and learn, as I learned, more than just the god that lead us home.

 

Thor is the symbol we wear to show each other who we are.  Tyr sanctifies our coming together, Frigg weaves us together as Freya teaches us to dare to live again.  Odin broods over our feasts, plotting and planning the advance of our scattered kindreds in building our road home to a more frithful and balanced future, and Loki?  He is by the fire, laughing at all of us.  Make him welcome, for he has offered his gifts right generously already.

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Aesir, Asatru, Heathen, Heathentry, Pagan, Uncategorized

Winter Nights

Green Wode Winter II

 

Snow was falling as I headed to the Green Wode for Winter Nights.  Heathens of the Nine Realms was hosting, a group I have been privileged to see grow from seeds planted in the broader pagan community and grow into a thriving, frithful, heathen community.  We came to mark the end of fall, the end of the harvest, and turn our eyes to the coming winter, to the dark, and to the dead.

 

Joining with us in this celebration were a local coracle building society, the artist who crafted these hardy boats had offered one of her coracle shells as a devotional offering for the Winter Nights fire, asking only that she be able to film the offering of her vessel, her artistry.

 

We began to gather at four as snow fell with the fading sunlight, to cease with the moonrise to leave us with a moonlit night filled with the sounds of the farm, field and forest animals, to which we added the music of fire, the songs of men and women, the stories of our ancient folk and faith.

 

A Tablero board appeared by magic, and Steven and I sat with dice and drink before us to compete at board as we do at spears.  Discussion roams from lore to history, to mythology to family, to our own lives and back again.  Laughter and jest between old friends who admit no barriers between them, courtesy and hospitality mark the newcomers who learn to accept the welcome of a community that holds to its own soul and does not lower itself to judge others by the labels our larger society seems content to divide itself with.  Come as you are, be who you are, and be welcome among us.

Tablero

 

Winter Nights was the feast that marked the end of the harvest season, the feast which marked the determination of which animals would be fed through the winter, which would be slaughtered to feed the folk.  Our priestess marked with Valkyrie mask lead our sheep masked offering about the fire, before ritually sacrificing him, and offering his blood to the fire and gods.

Upon the fire balanced the woven wooden frame and hull of a coracle, the ship given to the fire to carry away for us the hopes and dreams we offer, the brags of what we have done, the boasts of what we will do; the ship that will carry the grave goods and prayers to those we have lost in this season.  As the horn past, those of our kin, of our family, and of our dearest friends who had fallen were remembered, their glories sung, the place they held in life was shared, and the place they will hold forever in our hearts and minds was carved.  The ship which was the funeral vessel of our folk, either given to fire and wave in Viking funeral, or interred above our dead in the more common ship-grave is the vessel that no only carries us through this life, but from it.

Coracle making II

 

The coracle snapped and crackled in the fire as we hailed our holy gods, offering to them our praise, our thanks, our prayers, and tokens of our own craft and skill.  Each chose to honour the god or goddess whom had given the most to their lives in the year that was, and shared the lessons they had learned, the changes they had made, or were vowing now to make in the year to come.

 

Horn passed again, and we turned to offer to those gathered in sumbel with us, or who had sumbeled with us before but were not able to be here tonight.  Brightly we wove our wyrd together as we offered a gift for a gift, the bright offerings of praise and glory to those who had touched our lives, inspired us, aided us, challenged us, stood with us through storm and trial, test and hardship.

Altar Horn

 

Feast we then shared, groaning tables heavy with food both from the kitchens of our host, and from each guest who sought to bring an offering of matching worth to the hospitality they knew they would receive, and more than twice our number could eat.  Loud the hall with conversation and laughter, deep thoughts and discussions of lore and sacred mystery mixed with raucous tales and moments of mirth and jest as there were no borders for discussions with those who felt such connections between them.

 

Back to the night we trod, stoked the fire high again as we offered now more personally as the horn passed to us, sharing of our lives with those whom we now felt more comfort.  Bright the deeds that were shared, bold the boasts that were bared for the first time, those who had long cherished dreams that they at last dared to make come to pass in the world, to stake their fortune and their name to succeed or fail as wyrd wills.  In such company none feared to offer the truth of the goals they aimed at, the hopes they strove for, the secret dream they would pledge themselves to bring forth.  The goals were both personal and profound, some so daring that you had to salute the majesty of the quest and the courage of those who would so openly swear themselves to the doing.

 

Song now was offered, haunting melodies of love and loss in Finnish and Swedish, even Liam was induced to offer to us the Lord of Castlemere

 

https://youtu.be/-FF2fBRKxtk?list=RDi2vlXuEmfag

 

Tales now were told of our ancient gods, of alf and troll, god and hero as the moon lit the dark wood and the shadows danced around the fire to paint the night with dancing shadows to paint the night with glimpses of worlds of myth and mystery.

 

Many were free to spend the night wrapped in their bedding by the fire in the Red Room, but I, alas had to get back to pick up my daughter from work.  For me Winter Nights would end, but another hearty meal awaited those lucky enough to spend the night, for hospitality such as this is to be treasured more than the gold which is actually easier to find and less rewarding to hold.

 

Winter is come, and the folk are strong and whole, together in the sight of our gods, ancestors, and the wights of our lands and waters.   A gift for a gift, thanks for the bounty of the year that was, and promise to use that we will take no more than we need, and give back in return full measure.

Bonfire

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Aesir, Asatru, Heathen, Heathentry, Uncategorized

Raven’s and Swords

 

Je me souviens-the motto of Quebec; we will remember.

Ah yes, just about the single most common phrase ringing from any minority crying out for revenge against the terrible crimes of (everyone else alive, and anyone on their side who doesn’t fully agree with them). Oddly enough everyone self defines as a minority for this purpose, making the one great unifying truth of humanity is that everyone can look back and feel they alone have suffered.   Memory; remember the wrongs done you, but be very selective my children, lest you recall the crimes of your own forbearers as well, or hear the cries being directed towards you by those survivors of their victims.

Memory

We are quick to put this on our flags, our swords, our skins, and whisper it into the ears of our children.  Remember the terrible things that happened to someone else long ago, because this will give you the defiant pride to be turned into a weapon by the first idiot who wants to use them to commit terrible things today.
Remember 9-11, remember the Alamo, remember Culloden, Masada, Thermopylae, the fall of Jerusalem, the sack of Lindesfarne, Amritsar, Hiroshima and the Plains of Abraham.  Gods forbid you should ever really look at the history before and after for context.

Ravens

There are two Raven’s who fly throughout the world to bear Odin’s messages, Huginn and Muninn.  Thought and Memory are their names in the tongues of today, and how interesting it is that the one we carve in the tongues of our blades, into our skin, onto our licence plates, flags, banners and political dogma is Memory.

 

I love Odin, and I love my blades.  I have seen his truth, lived it, and I know well the stench of open guts, blood rotting on the ground, the odd stiffness of the corpse.  I have seen ravens and crows wheeling above the feast and understood the truth; the Battleglad does not care why we slaughter each other, we do it for reasons that are entirely our own, he does not need to whisper in our ears or raise the clarion call for blood, simply put, we have never needed it.  We feed the ravens in fact, the corpse eating birds grow fat and plentiful because we heed only one of His ravens, and not both.

 

Thought and Memory.  We find memory rich like mead or whiskey on the tongue, sensual as a lovers touch to fire our desires when poet or politician would arouse us to act, we carve it on our skins to dedicate ourselves to wrongs of the past, carve it on our blades and gunstocks as we prepare to commit the wrongs of the present in the name of the sacred memory of stupidities of the past.  Why is it we are so enamoured of the hot rich blood thick feel of Memory upon our tongue and upon our soul and so terrified of the ice cold calm of Thought?

 

Odin has more to his name than Battleglad, more to his nature than Feeder of Ravens.  He is the Victory Father; but why when we call for him by this name do we never also call him as Wise Counsellor or Truth Teller.

 

I can hear the non-Heathens already smugly assuring themselves this has nothing to do with them.  I hate to break this to you, it doesn’t matter if you believe in him, or his ravens, they believe in you.  You may not know you serve the ravens when you raise your hands to your neighbors; neighbors in other lands or neighbors in your own streets, but you lay the raven’s feast when you stir the strife that leads to burning cities and blood on the stones.  Raven’s have never lost a war.

 

Heathens ought to know better, but seldom do we find it any easier than other folk to give equal weight to the ravens on both shoulders.  Memory is ruled by passion, like sweet mead or the headiest whiskey it fires the blood and clouds the mind.  Thought does not look backward, but forward.  Thought soars from intention to consequence, looking beyond the passions to the price, thought looks beyond the hot words of politicians, demagogues, rabble rousers and activists and looks to the deeds that follows, looks beyond the swinging sword to the shattered limb, beyond the bright torch to the burned building, beyond the shattered peace to the shattered land.

Never forget, for the past is with us always and if we do not own it then we allow it to own us.  Muninn receives offerings from me, as I look to the past of my family, my ancestors, my nation, my faith for the inspiration to fulfil my duty to the present, and to help me remember my duties to the future.  Huginn receives offering from me as well.  Memory must always be balanced by thought, inspiration must never outstrip understanding of consequence or the future will do no more than rewater ancient battlefields with modern blood, layer another generation of hatred, waste and futility on all the generations of waste and mindless slaughter we so narrowly survived to get here.

 

The sword of memory is swiftly drawn and thirsts so much for the red life wine.  The sword of memory flashes bright in the sun and sings as it slays, caring little where it falls, only that it is driven by ancient pride and rage.  The sword of thought is different.  Drawn with reluctance it swings with the full weight of duty, falling with neither lust nor hesitation, a brutal necessity that accepts the cost of every stroke, and will not be sheathed save in victory.

Swords and Ravens

There are two ravens for a reason.  It is Odin’s to understand the inspiration of men, the ways of victory, even as the costs of the struggle are his meat and drink, so are all paths to victory his.

Memory reminds us of who we are, from whence we came, and lets us draw upon the rich strength of our line, of our nation, of our gods and faith to face whatever challenges we face today.  Thought soars ahead of us to seek the path towards a better tomorrow, a brighter future, a path away from the tragedies that scarred our families, our nations, and our history with needless suffering and loss.

I will tend my blades, keep them sharp and my hands ever skilled in their use, but I will understand when to heed which raven.  I will let Thought determine when my blade is drawn, and when my blade is to be sheathed.  I will not draw nor wet my steel for ancient wrong, for passion alone.  I will draw my steel only when Thought demands it, and sheath it when Thought requires it.  Memory shall fire my blood to face the steel of others, shall sustain me when wounds, fear, and exhaustion would bid me surrender, Memory will carry me through the fire, but I will never allow memory to light it.

I read the saga of burning steading and red steel vengeance as good poetry.  I learned the killing of men, of dead friends, the terrible cost of the broken and maimed from those who fed the ravens in my grandfathers and fathers generation.  I stood my time beneath the banners of my nation, and plied my trade with steel in my fist, knowing it to be a duty we were brought to by passion but carried out with the same cold calculation the raven’s have always exercised when feeding upon the fallen upon every tragic field our species has littered with the broken bodies that are the raven’s feast.

Odin is the god of poetry because those who have stood over the dead and the dying with work to do require something that can allow them to put all that they cannot unsee into a context we can live with, because there is always going to be work still to do.  Thought and Memory are both his, as his wolves Word and Deed are both his.  Thought must balance Memory, as Word must always be chosen carefully knowing Deed will follow. Odin is the god of consequences, of price paid.  You may choose to look at bright pages of angels and songs of high sounding rhetoric, but my own gods bid me look down at the shattered lives, burned out husks that once represented homes, businesses, dreams, and hope and consider long and well the costs before I speak, and before I act.

We will remember.  Tragically, we will always remember when we were wronged, never when we were wrong, we will remember victory, and forget the cost.  We will remember those who exploited us, and forget those who fought to bring justice.  We remember every face that screamed abuse at us, and forget so swiftly those who rose up in our defense.

 

It is hard to get passionate about a settlement that makes things a little better, building on a previous settlement that made things a little better, as through halting slow process a people struggle haltingly towards that great unknown destination of justice through tentative and halting steps.  Of the two ravens, Memory can soar unerringly to any place we have been, any wrong we have suffered or committed he can alight on, but Thought must seek in the mists of everchanging and ever weaving wyrd for that mythic land of justice towards which the wise stumble and the foolish believe they may simply name wherever they choose to stop.

It is satisfying to draw the sword and call for revolution, and frustrating to negotiate in good faith and imperfect practice to drive a people through evolution instead.  Memory looks like all ravens to the shiny bits, the juice bits, the bloody bits; soaring loftily over the vast stretches of context, peace and progress, decay and corruption, only to alight on blood and fire.

Thought is a harder raven to heed, yet the only raven that promises a destination other than the next blood soaked tragedy.  Memory is always with us, but memory cannot lead us forward to anything but a repeat of the tragedies of the past.  Thought and memory soar together through out sky and through our soul.  Bring them back into balance, bring us back into balance, so that we have a chance to steer our state closer to that distant star called justice, and in seeking that star find ourselves guided into lands far fairer in every sense of the word than our ancestors ever knew.

 

If you must grave the name of ravens upon your steel, your skin or your soul, do remember to balance thought and memory.  Honour the sacrifice of your ancestors, but draw upon it for inspiration to find a better way forward.  You must first let go the drive to avenge the past before you can ever be free of the chains of it.  Memory can never lead you forward, only Thought can.

 

 

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

Grief Counselling

Charles_Ernest_Butler_-_Death_of_a_viking_warrior

This was written for those who work as priests/priestesses in our community, but perhaps of equal value to those who are lay people in the community and wish to understand how to handle death in our community using the tools the ancestors left to us.

There is a lot that our ancestors accepted that we do not, they were much more comfortable with their mortality, but their definition of self was linked more strongly to their family than ours, so the context of their personal death was different than our own, and in many ways they understood death had less power over them than we are wont to give it.

We do have the tools to help with death in our community, and there is not really a great deal you have to understand before you are able to begin to apply those tools both in your own life, and in those you care about, to make a real difference in dealing with the death of loved ones.

Funerals and memorials are for the living, not the dead.  Understand this, understand the reason the tools exist and you will be able to understand how to use them to move through the agony of the loss itself and into the remodeling that follows.  I use the word remodeling rather than healing because healing implies that what was lost will be restored, whereas remodeling is the term used in rehabilitation after injury that denotes learning to understand, accept, and work with the reality that you are left with.  This is a better description for what we do in the grieving and morning process.  In the saga’s we have many indications of grieving that worked, that didn’t, and what followed from each path.  Let us start with GUTHRUNARKVITHA I The First Lay of Guthrun

 

http://www.sacred-texts.com/neu/poe/poe27.htm

 

10-Grieving could not | Guthrun weep,

Such grief she had | for her husband dead,

And so grim her heart | by the hero’s body.

 

11-Then spake Gollrond, | Gjuki’s daughter:

“Thy wisdom finds not, | my foster-mother,

The way to comfort | the wife so young.”

She bade them uncover | the warrior’s corpse.

 

12-The shroud she lifted | from Sigurth, laying

His well-loved head | on the knees of his wife:

“Look on thy loved one, | and lay thy lips

To his as if yet | the hero lived.”

 

13-Once alone did | Guthrun look;

His hair all clotted | with blood beheld,

The blinded eyes | that once shone bright,

The hero’s breast | that the blade had pierced.

 

14-Then Guthrun bent, | on her pillow bowed,

Her hair was loosened, | her cheek was hot,

And the tears like raindrops | downward ran.

 

Here we see Guthrun initially unable to process the death of Sigurd.  Literally, the loss she felt was so deep and shocking that she is unable to even weep, unable to cry, unable to feel; so great is her shock.  In the earlier stanza, we see the women of the community coming together to share their own stories of loss, because it really helps to know you are not alone, you are not the first who have had the pillars of their world kicked away, and yet, these women too carried on.  This is not about showing how they lost more, so you should stop whining; this is about supplying context.  To show that such loss is a part of the world, that such loss is a part of such love.  Context is important, I would go so far as to say critical in grief work as you must place the death, the loss itself INSIDE the greater context of the life that was before you can accept the reality that you can not only move forward past the loss without giving up the person you lost, but that in moving through and past the loss itself and the grieving you can reclaim all the bright strands that person wove into your life already.  Grieving is not about healing the loss, nothing will fill the spot that is gone, but you will remodel around the loss so that you can retain all that you shared with the loved one, while moving forward into a world in which they live on in their words and deeds, in the memory of those around them, not in the body you just burned or buried.

 

Guthrun literally cannot make this step, cannot make this transition because she cannot let go the living man.  In order to accept that he is gone, she must look upon his dead face, kiss his sightless eyes, to accept that no matter how hard she fought to hold onto her living husband, he was gone.  What she held was simply the meat that his soul once wore.  Now she could cry, now she could weep and wail.  Tears, like blood, carry the poisons out of the terrible wounds we take when one we love is taken from us.  The dead simply die, it is the living who take wounds in their passing, for the dead are beyond all pain, beyond all care, while the living bear a wound of severity equal to the importance to your life of the person who just died.  Viewings of the body, funerals, these are about letting go of the corpse, about accepting the living person who you want is no longer contained in the body you are commending to soil, sea, or fire.

 

Death and Context:

All deaths are not created equal.  It sounds wrong, but it is a part of how we as modern humans are unaware of many truths our ancestors accepted.  The gap between what we think and what we feel can often make it impossible to deal with the feelings that seem to make no sense.  Death reveals to us the gap between the modern understanding of self, and the ancient understanding of self as our own Heathen traditions held it.  When you talk to a westerner, European, or one of the Australian, North American or other daughter colonies of Western Europe about the definition of self in the modern Christian era, you will find that the definition of self begins and ends at the skin.  The myth of the nuclear family is one of terrible power in our age, but of relatively recent vintage.  Our ancestors were a clan or tribal people, and the definition of self was not limited to their own skin.  The self was bound indelibly with the family, clan, or tribe.  When you accept that your definition of self extends to your bloodline , rather  than simply to your skin, the definition of selfish and selfless acts becomes blurry, and much of what we today would describe as heroic becomes merely pragmatic from the point of view that looks at the preservation of a self that extends beyond their skin.

 

The Christian looked at the Heathen warrior’s attitude about death and mistook them as being death hungry, when a more complete view would be were accepting that there would inevitably be a death for them, and not unduly concerned that a “good death” or death in the most glorified context of battle, is not to be viewed as entirely bad.  Part of that was the realization that given the choice, this is one of the “good options” to go out on; one your family would speak well of long after you were gone.  A larger part of the seeming fearlessness was the realization that death upon that battlefield did not threaten all of yourself.  If your self extends beyond your skin, and extends into your line, then if your children, your siblings, your cousins, nieces and nephews, your clan and your tribe endured, then so did part of you.  What you did to ensure their survival was part of guaranteeing your own immortality.

Our ancestors accepted that our body was not immortal.  Our immortality lay within the family and the tribe.  This gave some deaths a context that made them easier to accept.  Look at Egil’s Saga for examples of death and context as both a tool that allows us to accept it more easily, and as one that renders death infinitely more terrible.

 

http://www.sacred-texts.com/neu/egil/egil56.htm

 

Egil’s Saga LV; Egil Skallgrimson’s beloved brother Thorloff falls in battle fighting on the opposite wing for King Athelstan of England against King Olaf and his Scottish allies.  Egil was brooding while all around celebrated survival and victory until King Athelstan gave him a gold ring taken off his own arm, offering praise and gifts to honour the loss of Thorloff

 

“The king said: ‘These chests, Egil, thou shalt have, and, if thou comest to Iceland, shalt carry this money to thy father; as payment for a son I send it to him: but some of the money thou shalt divide among such kinsmen of thyself and Thorolf as thou thinkest most honourable. But thou shalt take here payment for a brother with me, land or chattels, which thou wilt. And if thou wilt abide with me long, then will I give thee honour and dignity such as thyself mayst name.’

Egil took the money, and thanked the king for his gifts and friendly words. Thenceforward Egil began to be cheerful; and then he sang:”

 

The death of Thorloff was terrible, but the context of death in battle was one that he was prepared to accept, and the funery gifts made it clear that Thorloff fell in glory, his name won praise and gold from great kings, and would see him remembered with the greatest heroes in the hall.  Now Egil was not only free to celebrate the victory with the rest of the warriors, but free as well to move forward and take the gold won in Thorloff’s name to look after the needs of his remaining family back at home.  Funeral rites and rituals, insurance and estate settlement are all part of the process of grieving and morning, a practical element that cannot be overlooked or separated from the emotional.  Thorloff was not just a man, he was not just Egil’s brother, he was a father, a husband, and the support of all his dependants.  Egil needed to not only let go the living man, to deal with his own loss, but to see that the duties of him who was lost were themselves taken care of, that the dead be not dishonoured by those he left behind being not cared for.  Egil’s grief was bearable because Thorloff was a warrior who fell in battle, a good death.  His dependants would be cared for, due to the glory and gold he won in life, and his name would be remembered.

Ramp Ceremony

 

http://www.sacred-texts.com/neu/poe/poe04.htm The Havamal tell us

 

  1. Cattle die, | and kinsmen die,

And so one dies one’s self;

One thing now | that never dies,

The fame of a dead man’s deeds.

 

The death of a parent, a sibling, a lover, a friend is one that we can fit into context because we can make sure their name remains bright, their memory is cared for.  Context makes it better.  This is not always the case.  If our ancestors accept that our self is not defined simply by the limits of our skin but by our line.  This makes the death of a child harder.  We see not just the death of what they are, but the death of the future.  It is just that the young bury the old, not the old bury the young.  When Egil’s son drowned, he was far less able to deal with this loss.  This was a death out of context; neither the failing of a baby not yet grown into strength, not the failing of an elder whose life was done, nor the fall of a warrior in glory, or woman in birth.  This was a death of potential, the theft of a life that will never be.

 

http://www.sacred-texts.com/neu/egil/egil82.htm

 

Egil determined to starve himself to death because he could not live with the death of his son.  It took his daughter deceiving him into violating his oaths to turn him from self destructive expressions of his inability to grieve, to actual expressions of grief.  As with the earlier case where Guthrun could not grieve until she looked upon the body and accepted Sigurd’s death, Egil could not bring himself to grieve until he accepted the fact that his duty compelled him to go on, and going on required the duties of the living to the dead.  It is these duties that serve to set our feet on the path to using grieving to remodel our own lives to accept the reality of the loss we have suffered, and which enable us to regain the loved one as part of our life, even if now they are no longer among the living.

 

“Egil heard these tidings that same day, and at once rode to seek the bodies: he found Bodvar’s, took it up and set it on his knees, and rode with it out to Digra-ness, to Skallagrim’s mound. Then he had the mound opened, and laid Bodvar down there by Skallagrim. After which the mound was closed again; this task was not finished till about nightfall. Egil then rode home to Borg, and, when he came home, he went at once to the locked bed-closet in which he was wont to sleep. He lay down, and shut himself in, none daring to crave speech of him.

It is said that when they laid Bodvar in earth Egil was thus dressed: his hose were tight-fitting to his legs, he wore a red kirtle of fustian, closely-fitting, and laced at the sides: but they say that his muscles so swelled with his exertion that the kirtle was rent off him, as were also the hose.

On the next day Egil still did not open the bed-closet: he had no meat or drink: there he lay for that day and the following night, no man daring to speak with him. But on the third morning, as soon as it was light, Asgerdr had a man set on horseback, who rode as hard as he could westwards to Hjardarholt, and told Thorgerdr all these tidings; it was about nones when he got there. He said also that Asgerdr had sent her word to come without delay southwards to Borg. Thorgerdr at once bade them saddle her a horse, and two men attended her. They rode that evening and through the night till they came to Borg. Thorgerdr went at once into the hall. Asgerdr greeted her, and asked whether they had eaten supper. Thorgerdr said aloud, ‘No supper have I had, and none will I have till I sup with Freyja. I can do no better than does my father: I will not overlive my father and brother.’ She then went to the bed-closet and called, ‘Father, open the door! I will that we both travel the same road.’ Egil undid the lock. Thorgerdr stepped up into the bed-closet, and locked the door again, and lay down on another bed that was there.

Then said Egil, ‘You do well, daughter, in that you will follow your father. Great love have you shown to me. What hope is there that I shall wish to live with this grief?’ After this they were silent awhile. Then Egil spoke: ‘What is it now, daughter? You are chewing something, are you not?’ ‘I am chewing samphire,’ said she, ‘because I think it will do me harm. Otherwise I think I may live too long.’ ‘Is samphire bad for man?’ said Egil. ‘Very bad,’ said she; ‘will you eat some?’ ‘Why should I not?’ said he. A little while after she called and bade them give her drink. Water was brought to her. Then said Egil, ‘This comes of eating samphire, one ever thirsts the more.’ ‘Would you like a drink, father?’ said she. He took and swallowed the liquid in a deep draught: it was in a horn. Then said Thorgerdr: ‘Now are we deceived; this is milk.’ Whereat Egil bit a sherd out of the horn, all that his teeth gripped, and cast the horn down.

Then spoke Thorgerdr: ‘What counsel shall we take now? This our purpose is defeated. Now I would fain, father, that we should lengthen our lives, so that you may compose a funeral poem on Bodvar, and I will grave it on a wooden roller; after that we can die, if we like. Hardly, I think, can Thorstein your son compose a poem on Bodvar; but it were unseemly that he should not have funeral rites. Though I do not think that we two shall sit at the drinking when the funeral feast is held.’ Egil said that it was not to be expected that he could now compose, though he were to attempt it. ‘However, I will try this,’ said he.”

 

Grieving: Emotions, truths, rituals, offerings, practices and practicalities.

 

Grief is a noun, but grieving is a verb.  This sounds like sophistry, but there is a really important message here.  Grieving is something we have to do.  Grieving is work, grieving has a series of objectives that must be achieved for the changes required to remodel successfully to be made.  One of the first things that you as a priest will have to deal with it the expectation of others that someone should “get over it”, or simply put, stop grieving.  Understand this is the equivalent of telling an athlete or soldier who has lost a leg at the knee that they should simply stop physiotherapy to learn to walk again without that limb, to learn to adjust their balance without a support they have always know, to learn to do again all those tasks that they are required to do with the support they have now, not the support they first learned to do all these tasks with.  No one would expect a one legged person to just carry on without going through a long painful process of relearning to work around what was lost, yet we expect people to lose an entire human being, and simply flip a switch and carry on as if that person that was as much a part of you and your life as a limb had never existed.  Grieving is not healing, it will not give you back the living person.  Grieving is remodelling, it allows you to move forward with the acceptance that this person is no longer alive, but as you complete the remodelling and process the loss itself, you make the dead again reachable, make those parts of your life that they shaped, filled, and brightened again accessible and as potently supporting as they were when that person still lived.

 

Grieving should not be sanitized, cleaned up, or edited out of respect for the dead.  Understand and accept this, funeral rituals, and grief rituals are for the living.  The dead are with the ancestors and under the care of the gods.  They are beyond our needs, but the living are the ones who have to deal with the consequences of death.  Grieving must be honest.  As a priest, one of the things that you can do to affect the outcome of grieving is to help the one who has suffered a loss to understand that all of their feelings have a place in grieving, and none of them represent a betrayal.  The reality is that sanitizing grieving is one of the most dangerous things we can do for spiritual or mental health in the period immediately following a death.

 

What emotions are natural?  Oh that one is not only a complicated one, but one that strikes deep into the gap between who we wish to be, and who we actually are.  This gap is like a chink in our armour, and as a priest it is our job to be without judgement as we help people to process those feelings they do not wish to admit they have.  If you do not admit you own the feelings, you will not be able to deal with them, and will not be able to remodel around the wounds these unadmitted feelings leave.  That is like healing most of a bone, or most of a tendon.  You are not going to be strong, as the part you could not admit to, and thus did not heal will forever be the point that fails, and harms you in the failing.

 

Love; love can be a negative until you have processed the loss.  The degree of love you feel can be overwhelming as it can drive you, like Guthrun or Egil in to refusing to let the dead go.  There is an irrational fear that admitting they are dead, or accepting they are dead is a betrayal; that somehow like Schrodinger’s cat, until you accept it, they are not truly gone.  What is true is that until you accept they are dead, you will never be able to get past the loss to be able to feel the love, because you are freezing yourself forever in the agony of the loss itself.

Anger; the person who is lost has hurt you, has betrayed you.  You depended on them and they are not there anymore.  Their loss is a wound in you, and they are the one that inflicted that pain.

 

Shame; this one is tricky, and really dangerous.  This is one of the big reasons priests are needed in the community to help with grieving.  Shame has a few sources, most of which are operating in a tangled mess in those dealing with a loss.  There is shame at the anger mentioned above.  There is shame sometimes generated by relief.  You can be relieved that a long expected death has occurred, and the waiting/fear is over.  You can be relieved because your relationship with the person you lost contained both love and anger, love and fear, love and resentment.  Relationships that are deep and long lasting will have strands of a thousand different truths woven through them, both light and dark.  We say that you should not speak ill of the dead, but the reality is that if we are to actually remember the dead, we must be honest about them, at least to ourselves.  You cannot process a loss fully until you process all of your feelings, the bright and the dark both.  Shame is something that we as priests can help our grieving members to deal with.

 

Fear.  This one is again rendered more potent by the strength of the relationship, and by its duration.  It is literally impossible for many people to envision a world without the person they just lost.  They cannot think of a world without the one they lost, and the fear of the unknown has always been the most potent and most debilitating fear known to humanity.  Fear of the unknown is dealt with most easily by practicalities.  The grieving process is mixed inexorably with the bureaucratic nightmare of dealing with the practical effects of a person’s death.  These very real tasks are terrible, because you cannot separate the practical task from the emotional reality of the loss, but this is also a positive.  With support from your community, dealing with those practical tasks takes you out of the terrifying unknown, and into the known (but unpleasant) and shows that you have the power to keep fulfilling your obligations.  You are doing something not only for the one who was lost, but to move forward in your own life.  Moving forward is a habit, as much as being terrified into stillness is.  The practicalities of moving forward are something you and the community can support the grieving person with, and this restores to them the ability to move forward and thus weakens the hold of the fear of the unknown.

 

Helplessness.  There are a few conflicting truths here.  You are helpless to bring the dead back.  You are not helpless to honour them, to reclaim them as a very real presence in your life.  This is where the rituals, offerings and practices come into play.

 

Funerals:

Funeral rituals exist to honour the dead, and serve the living.  Funerals bring us together as a people, as all those who shared the loss can come together to share in the grieving.  We are a people that believes in grave goods.  We are a people that make offerings to the gods, wights and ancestors with the belief that such things have real and lasting impact, that such gifts are indeed welcomed and returned in kind if not in form.  A gift for a gift is our way, and funerals are about shifting that reciprocal gifting relationship in form, while maintaining its essential nature.  There are two different levels of operation of the funeral; the public and the private.

The public portion of the funeral is about the grave gifts of glory, praise, fame.  The public portion of the funeral is about the worth of the one who was lost, and through this public affirmation of the worth of the one who was lost we see the power of what other faiths view as the coldness of Heathenry, but is actually one of its real and founding strengths:

 

78-Cattle die, | and kinsmen die,

And so one dies one’s self;

One thing now | that never dies,

The fame of a dead man’s deeds.

 

Death is the period at the end of a sentence, the silence at the end of the song.  Death cannot take away a single word you have spoken, a single deed you have done, nor unmake the changes you have made in all those lives you have touched, or that your words and deeds will inspire others to do in the future.  Death can kill the flesh, but it has no power to remove you from this earth while your memory is held bright, while those who live still remember you and still give thanks for the gifts you gave them in this life.  The public portion of the funeral is about proving to those who suffered the loss of someone that death has robbed that person of heartbeat and breath, but it has not, and cannot taken them from this good earth while those who still walk it cherish the words and deeds of their lives.  Funerals are not just a celebration of the life of the person who has fallen, but a placing of hard limits on the power of death itself.  Death is not something that begins with the last heartbeat and extends for all time; death is simply the moment of that last heartbeat, the fall of the chest that does not rise again.  The life of the person that was lost is infinitely greater than the death that took them, and it is coming together as a community through funeral rituals of whatever form that we grow to understand this.  The public phase is important for this realization, and for the support structure it gives us to share both our pain, and our strength.  In sharing with others it becomes easier for each of us individually to go forward.

 

The private portion of the funeral is not always a unified thing, sometimes different groups representing different aspects of the persons life will do this separately, as not all sharing’s are equally age or personality appropriate.  There is a very great temptation to place the dead upon pedestals, to choose to cherry pick our memories of them and remember only the fairest portions.  This is a natural temptation, and a dangerous one.  To do that is to place them forever beyond our reach as this pedestal will not admit close scrutiny, and will forever leave that person beyond your grasp.  You will never be able to reclaim them as a living part of your life, only a ghost that forever reminds you of your loss.  The private sharing is a lot like a really powerful sumbel; it begins with formality and dignity, and degenerates into sharing of truths, the true faces the lost one showed to us.  There are the ones that endeared them to you, not all of which are dignified, some of which are outright ridiculous.  The reality of love is that it is not always born of those things that you boast about, but sometimes in small simple, and outwardly foolish things.  There are the bits that infuriated you, the parts that are so much a part of the loved ones personality that everyone who truly knows them accepts that you could no more stop them from these infuriating habits than you could from breathing; this is a part of who they are, and you can all laugh about it as you share that you truly knew and accepted the lost person for who they were, not who you wanted them to be.  There will also be some sharings of darkness, of pain, of experiences that left you conflicted.  There will be some who are threatened by these sharings, and obviously the circle for this kind of sharing will be smaller.  The fact is that you must be honest about all the feelings you had if you are to process a loss, and move beyond the pain of the loss itself and reclaim the living presence of that person in your life.  When you are able to remember all of them, the light the dark the proud, the funny, then you can reclaim everything they gave to and shared with you, and they can become again a living part of your life.  What they shared with you cannot be taken away by death, and they can again become a living presence in your life.  If you put them on a pedestal, you will always and only have the real shocking pain of their loss, the reality that they are forever beyond your grasp.  You will have lost them in truth, through failure to process your own loss, rather than through the simple act of their death.

 

Offerings

 

Offerings at a time of loss are something that we as priests need to be able to identify, mostly so that we can help those who are dealing with the loss in their own ways to recognize the offerings of others, and find ways to make offerings themselves.  There are a lot of ways to make offerings, and some of them are not as obvious as offerings without some thought.  Tears are an offering in and of themselves. If a person was worthy of love in life, then they are worth of tears in death.  For strong men and women especially, the idea that strong people do not cry is a toxic teaching from a society that has lost its understanding of strength.  To cry when someone you love has been taken from you, especially when you pride yourself on not ever crying for yourself is to make an offering to the one who was lost that literally you would never make for any suffering or pain of your body, nor fear of your own fate.  This is an offering of power and worth, not a weakness to be shamed by.

Offerings can be praise, can be memories, can be sharing of parts of the lost one’s life you may not have been aware of.  In sharing how the one who was lost has touched each life differently you are raising the worth of them, and literally stealing more from death, granting to them more of what death cannot take away from them.  This is a very real and powerful form of victory.

 

Offerings can be practical.  Not every person is a poet, or is comfortable with expressions of outward emotions.  There are large numbers of people whose offerings in time of grief are baby sitting, casserole, house cleaning, errand running, paperwork, banking assistance, baked goods, or carpooling kids to school or activities.  This is a very real statement that you know they have felt a loss, you are doing what is within your power to take from their shoulders the burdens you can take up, so they can better deal with it.  Grieving is a verb, verbs are actions, actions require energy.  Those who take up your burdens in part while you grieve are freeing up your energy to better do that grieving.  These sorts of offerings are quite often greeted not with thanks but with anger by those who are comfortable with emotional expression as they believe it constitutes being unfeeling, or uncaring.  The opposite is in fact the case, but not everyone has the same expression of emotions.  Some people emote, express their emotions through visible displays.  Others must express their emotion through practical action.  Both are valid, and as a priest it is part of your job to gently show how each is offering “first and best” as they know how to do.  It is not always easy to see when you are in great pain that someone is making a worthy offering if the form is not one that is familiar or comfortable to you.

 

Practices and practicalities

 

The closer you are to the person who was lost, the more likely it is you will have to deal with some of the bureaucratic nightmare of the death paperwork.  Until this is all done, and it will take over a year in most cases, the death itself is not fully over.  The practicalities of dealing with the death give you a very real window for how long at a minimum you will be processing the death.  At the end, you have closure.  The death is over.  The emotional roller coaster of the dealing with the physical possessions, and legal leftovers provides a very real way to let those emotions burn themselves off, while providing a real focus for the attendant energies to do something with a practical and knowable result.  This combats the feelings of helplessness as you are actually doing something.  This provides a chance for community and family to provide physical assistance that allows an emotional sharing of the burden through the physical mechanism of practically sharing the burden.  Working things out internally is often easier when it is expressed through actually working something out practically.  Cleaning is a very useful tool this way.

 

Tending of graves, altars, memorial stones, making of memorial crafts, photo collections, gardens are all very real ways that we can blend the physical actions of the practical world with the emotional and spiritual aspects of memorializing, remembering and offering to our dead.  Each of these actions allows us to extend that reciprocal gifting relationship into a form different than the one we shared with the living person, but equally real.  This is another way to finish the remodelling by making a new place for the dead person in our life moving forward.  We cannot bring back the living body, but we can make sure that they remain a part of our life going forward.  They dead are only lost to us if we choose to allow it.  Through the grieving process we learn to let go the living person, to accept the body no longer holds them, and allow the pain of that loss to be bled out of us through the process of grieving until we can let go the loss itself, and reclaim the place that person has in our life, and will always have while we remember them.

 

Healing leaves you as you were before, pain free and exactly as capable as you were before.  That we can’t do.  That is magic the gods don’t even promise.  Remodeling is what rehabilitation professionals refer to as the process by which you deal with injuries that make permanent changes.  That is what we are doing with grieving.  We are remodeling, the terrible scar of the loss is slowly remodeled into a more functional form that admits that the person is no longer with us, but allows us to access those gifts and strengths they left us.  As priests, we cannot do the work for someone else, any more than a good physiotherapist could, but what we can do is use our knowledge and experience to enable those in our care to have the most favourable outcome possible, to be able to reclaim as much of the loved one as they may, as they move forward in their lives.

 

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Aesir, Asatru, Heathen, Heathentry, Pagan, Uncategorized

Litha: Shadow of the Summer King

Freyr with BoarDancer legs

Erica had been a dancer, not a professional, but she had given her passion to the dance since she was a small child. She had danced ballet, tap, jazz, and lyrical all through school, eventually passing into teaching on a part time basis as a way to keep dance in her life, even as her professional life flourished in the financial sector.  Life was good, the sun shone, and all was right in the world.

 

It was September 23, and she was on her back from teaching dance class when a driver who had put away too many after work beers, on top of his medicinal weed, was a little late in determining what the red light shining overhead meant.  His indecision carried his Suburban half way through the intersection, and over half way through her Corolla.  It was almost an hour before they were able to free her from the vehicle and get her to hospital.  It was over twelve before they were sure they were not going to lose her altogether.  There is a clear priority in trauma as severe as Erica’s; life over limb, and the grim cost of that is seen in the legs that were ignored while the question of her survival hung very much in doubt.
It was almost a year of surgeries and rehabilitation before Erica was able to return to work.  It was considered a miracle that she was able to walk unassisted, but decades of dance training, the balance and discipline of a pointe dancer that enabled her to walk on limbs grown strangers to her, dead of nerve, weak of joint, no longer supple and strong, nor able honestly to ever return to the grace and power that had quietly been a touchstone of her existence as she danced through life; for she danced no more.

 

The scars of her surgeries cut a tracery upon the skin of her legs and torso, in her legs the joins of the scar tissue were marked by uneven and lumpy unfinished appearance she wept to describe to her sisters as “Frankenstein patchwork”.  Never outwardly vain, the fact that Erica had lived her entire life with a body given the grace and poise of a young deer had been an unnoticed pillar of her life, until the accident and surgery that had left her robbed of grace, and mortified at the sight of her legs.

 

Erica did not believe in depression; while she struggled with it, she never yielded to it, and fought to pour her energies back into her work, regaining the professional ground lost, and attempting to invest the same joy in building wealth for her clients that she had always found in the dance; but her life was without balance, and the strain was showing when she was not at work.  Her community had been there for her, but at some of the celebrations she felt no longer comfortable.  Today was Litha, the midsummer where she would once have leapt the fire with the others to burn off ill luck and celebrate the sheer joy of life in honour of Lord Frey, the lord of the dance, and the ever renewing earth.  She could not jump over the fire, nor stand the looks of pity when she sat with the old folks to watch the young and strong leap in joy now denied her.

She wanted to swim, to lose herself in the rythmn of the waves and her strokes, an echo of the dance she used to know.  She could not go to the pool, her self consciousness about the eyes upon her scarred legs had made the public pools about as attractive as a dung heap, and with Litha falling on a weekend, she had the chance to go to the beach before there were people about, especially if she went down to the sea by one of little beaches not technically open to the public.  Here at least she could lose herself in the waves without fear of other eyes.

 

The wind was quiet as she started to swim, but the waves seemed to pick playfully at her as the wind rose from a sky blue save for wisps of lazily twisting white lace.  A rogue wave slapped her in the face as she turned to breathe in her perfectly timed stroke, and she choked on the heavy salt water that shattered her rythmn and stole her breath.  In little danger, but unable to swim as she coughed, she was struggling to regain breath and keep herself above water when a strong lithe form swept from behind to wrap her in one strong arm, and with the other begin pulling strongly to shore.

A gentle voice ran over her like sunlight “There now, the wave sisters are over playful and have done you a bad turn.  You just cough it out, and I will keep you up until you can swim again.   The wind is rising and father says swimmers and day sailors had best be to shore; I tend to listen to him as the beach has been his since forever.”

 

There was no feeling of alarm at the strangers touch, and the unquestioned maleness of his presence pressed against her back caused a blush to rise to her face as unaccustomed thoughts intruded into the routine cycle of anger at failure and embarrassment.  She found herself first relaxing into his touch, then beginning to join him in a side stroke towards shore, aware the sea was indeed rising beneath a wind growing ever more full.

Her arm over his around her middle, they fell into a matching stroke, falling into the rythmn as naturally as with another dancer, they moved together through the waves as he pushed her to extend herself, stretching into fuller strokes, and more powerful than she had learned to use in her long recovery, he never pushed, simply led and trusted she would follow and felt her body begin to burn with the feeling of pleasant exertion.  Falling into the rythmn she felt her heart and his hammer in time as his chest pressed to her back, and she was very well aware of just what was pressed against her buttocks as their legs moved together in a dance eerily echoing another she had not contemplated since her accident.

 

Arriving at shore, body thrilling with the pleasure of full exertion she had no strength even to stand, and was trying to figure out how to gracefully ask for a pause before trying to get out of the water when she felt his other arm pass beneath her legs and carry her out of the water with an effortless power that belied his graceful form.

“I am so sorry, I knew you were tiring, but I was just enjoying the swim so much I indulged myself by pushing us both.  It is the least I can do for such a lovely dance partner to help you over the fence to my mother’s land.”

 

He carried her up the rough beaten trail to the rough turnaround where her car and a Triumph Stag were both parked.  He settled her neatly on the hood of the Stag, and snagged a towel from the back seat of the convertible to wrap around her.

“Oh my god, this is your mother’s land?  I didn’t know who owned it, but I just knew there was a beach access, and never any people, and I prefer to swim without a lot of people around”

 

His eyes stayed on hers, even as hers darted reflexively to the scars she attempted to hide with the towel, and his eyes smiled easily, refusing to flinch.

“Aye, it’s my father’s beach, but the farm is mother’s.  I am actually supposed to be at a family function right now for Litha, but you know, sometimes you don’t need a lot of people around, sometimes you need to feel the wind, the waves, the sun, the feel of the warm earth beneath your feet, and the feel of someone else moving with the same simple joy of life”

 

Had he pressed closer, she might have feared that was a come on, and been concerned about his intentions, but he stood unselfconsciously, the sun shining on his golden hair, and she saw a faint network of scars covering his body as well, similar to her own in scope, if different in placement.

Seeing her eyes trace over his scars he laughed, and she flinched, knowing her reaction to people noticing her own.
“Ah yes, well when I was younger I took up the sword, so to speak.  There came a time I had to give it up, put it behind me.  I was glad enough to be honest, I would rather work to build a future than burn it down anyway.  I admit I am mostly concerned with wealth management these days, the exciting world of agricultural futures and my own volunteer work trying to do what I can to see that we use some of that wonderful plenty to make sure that the people who need it actually get fed.  Not as exciting as the sword, but the fields and flocks keep people fed after all”

He looked down at his scars and traced them with his finger, he took her hand and she felt herself start to do the same.

“These are like the vines of the rose.  Twisted and thorned, they speak of pain, but if you trace them you see they sing of life, rooted in the strong earth, yearning for the bright sun, and if you trace them far enough you will find such beauty as no gentler flower may know”

Rose vines on fence

 

His own fingers began to trace her own scars on her legs, as her own traced his scars across his chest.

There was a simple joy in discovery for her, as his fingers traced lines of pain and ugliness that she saw imposed over the body she knew, but he taught her otherwise.  She traced the scars of his body and found only life and love, the fierce burning passion of the spring tempered by life and wisdom into the warm heat of summer, the richness of fulfilment, not the mad urgency of spring, but the patience of the long lazy summer afternoon.
Tracing her scars, he taught her to know her hard won strength, to glory in the lines of a power paid for by sweat and tear, to claim for herself the joy of the dance again, in the oldest dance of all.  They loved in the fields, as birds danced and sang, and the fence rose bushes waved in the summer breeze in stately measure as if bowing to the couple who celebrated life renewed under the midsummer sun.

Weaving for each other crowns of flowers, they strode naked to the tree at the center of the field where he showed her the secret burrow of the rabbits that dance here each Easter, and stood beside her as the doe from the edge of the treeline came down to let her stroke its soft flanks, coming to his soft call as if it were not a wild thing.

 

The midsummer passed as they supped in the field from baskets he had brought in his Triumph Stag, and they fed each other with crackers, meats, fruits and cheeses with much laughter, and enough spillage that squirrels and birds were their most dutiful attendants.

As the sun began to fall, he smiled sadly, and told her it was time for him to go, for he was not free to tarry long.  As they returned to their cars, and their clothes, it occurred to her she had never asked his name.  As she turned to ask him, she gazed at him flower crowned, the setting sun behind his head setting his body to glowing like hammered bronze and froze.
“You know my name, beloved one.  You need not speak it, but write it here over my heart and know that you will always be my beloved.”  His voice was too gentle to be a command; but an invitation.
Over his heart she traced the diamond symbol Ingwaz, the symbol of Frey.

Kissing her on the forehead, he took both her hands in his before kissing them as well in parting.

“You have always pleased me, in the dance, and in your life.  A gift for a gift, it was time I reminded you were still my beloved dancer”

 

She followed his Stag into the first turn, but was unsurprised to find that when she rounded the corner on the country road, his car was not there.  Litha was ending, and he could not tarry.  The laughed through smiling tears.  She also had life to get back to, and joy that she had forgotten would again be part of it.

Ingwaz

 

 

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Aesir, Asatru, Heathen, Heathentry, Uncategorized

Faithless Heathen

 

Odin PictureOne of the hardest concepts for me to adjust to when I came to Heathenry was the growing fear that I was doing it wrong, as the deeper into Heathenry I went, the less faith I had.  Now for those of you who are assuming that I was growing to trust the teachings of Heathenry less, or hold our gods in lesser reverence, I think it important to take a second to talk about the definition of faith that we inherit from a Christian European tradition.
Faith, in religious terms is defined by Merriam-Webster dictionary as follows:
a (1) :  belief and trust in and loyalty to God (2) :  belief in the traditional doctrines of a religion

b (1) :  firm belief in something for which there is no proof clinging to the faith that her missing son would one day return (2) :  complete trust

 

There is a clear drive in the Judeo-Christian faiths to accept without questioning, to have faith, rather than trusting the things that you can see, that you can understand and test.  The name Islam means submission, and very much the definition of God Fearing Christian holds the same reflexive belief that human will and understanding, human knowledge and truth are nothing compared to the “revealed” truth of their god.  My understanding of Heathenry is greatly different than this.
The Hávamál has so very many lines about hospitality, about the building and maintaining of relationships, and yet the only line about what is owed that gods is simply it is better not to overdo it[1].  That hardly seems to match with the early Christian upbringing which tells us we have little to no worth, save through submission to God, and that just for existing we require punishment, and owe everything we may possess to God, and should be generous in offering to him, and his collectors at every opportunity.  As I grew older, this sounded more like organized crime, than religion, but the motivational basis was clearly one of appeasement of dread power, rather than anything resembling the reciprocal gifting cycle that a Heathen would recognize.

 

Here it is possibly worthwhile to have a look at the definition of hard polytheist.  A hard polytheist is defined as a person who believes the gods are discrete knowable entities, not all expressions of a single whole.  As a hard polytheist, I accept the gods have actual natures, knowable in some imperfect sense by us, and recognizable to us.  Our gods being discrete knowable entities has real implications in terms of faith.

 

I do not have faith in my grandfather, I met him.  I do not have faith in gravity, I can test its existence and describe in mathematical terms its effects.  I do not have faith in my gods, because I have gnosis, or experience which establishes their existence to me, much the way the existence of my grandfather was established to me.  I cannot have faith, for it is not rejecting the evidence of my reason and senses that is required to praise the gods, for as we deepen in our practice, we see more and more the touch of our Disir, our holy ancestors, the wights of the lands and waters, and the gods themselves in the world in which we live.  We do not turn away from the world to practice our religion, we do not turn away from the world at all.

 

Metaethics is the acceptance of a higher spiritual authority for moral choices.  This is accepted by many religions, and is the source of the word sin.  Sin is defined as disobeying gods will, not doing wrong, but disobeying the will of an entity which may be good or evil in nature, but to which you are deemed to owe obedience regardless of how the act itself might be judged in normal ethics.

We don’t really have that particular definition of sin.  We do have right and wrong, but they are not metaethically derived, but derived from the effects our actions have on individuals, communities and our world.  The Hávamál is not a rule book telling you what is a sin, it is a guideline for troubleshooting relationships and a set of principals that will allow you to operate ethically and successfully.  You will not choose between the ethics given us by the gods, and the ethics we understand from our own internal and societal moral compass, because what is left in the Hávamál is little more than ways to properly define the question or situation, so that you can judge the morality for yourself, and act accordingly.

 

I have heard the criticism that Heathens treat their gods too lightly, and this is a part of the Western European tradition as much as it is of Judeo Christian thought.  The gods of Greece and Rome were quite similar to the god of the Old Testament as far as the punishment for individuals and whole cities who did not offer fast enough, and rich enough, to prove their continued fear and sincere desire to appease the god or gods in question.  This was not a part of the Northern experience, not a part of the lore that is left to us.  There is little of the drive to appease, no body of lore that says the gods are planning to wipe out the entire tribe or city unless we offer richly enough.  I am not claiming superiority to those traditions, I am simply pointing out that while it is built into a lot of the Western European (read Christian/Roman) thought, it was never really a part of our folks fundamental assumptions.

 

God Fearing is a term we can address now.  We do not offer out of fear of our gods.  We do not fear them in the sense that we do not operate under the assumption that they are going to destroy our people or ourselves unless properly appeased.  That is not part of our world view.
We can laugh at the gods, for we do not fear the tribe will be ended if we tell a story, a myth of our gods in which they do something foolish.  Our gods really are great, and do not fear their power is slighted by such tales, and thus we do not fear reprisal for such things.

We do approach them with awe, with reverence, with wonder.  We can and do sometimes face them kneeling or otherwise abasing ourselves because we trust that our sense of worth, and our gods understanding of that worth is not threatened when we feel the need to make an offering of obeisance to one whose gifts, whose power, whose sheer wonder demands from us a gift of worth that we would offer no living man, woman, President or Queen.

 

We are driven to learn about this world, through development of our skills in science, technology, engineering, philosophy, art, history, archeology, astronomy, medicine, ecology and a thousand other disciplines by which we seek to better understand and succeed in this world we inherit and hold in trust.

 

We are given too to learn about our gods.  This is partly the study of the lore, the continual study of ancient archaeology to determine how much of what was once known we can recover, and by the communal and individual practice that makes up Heathen worship, community and at the more esoteric end, spiritual practice.
Again, this does not give us faith, it gives us greater understanding, and a lower requirement for faith.  The first scientists had to accept as an item of faith that the world was explainable through reason.  Those who followed afterwards did not have to accept this as faith, as the understanding had grown already to the point you could use the tools of your reason and senses to see for yourself, requiring not faith but understanding.  Not a rejection of reality to cling to an unproven and unprovable principal, but the acceptance of principals that corresponded to your best testable understanding of the world in which you live.

As a Heathen, I do not put much value in faith, and I do put much value in reason.  I do not put any value in meta-ethics, and expect to make my own moral choices, and bear the responsibility for them.  I do not live in fear of my gods, I do not hold myself worthless before them, nor do I offer to them out of fear of reprisal.

I form a reciprocal gifting relationship with the gods, with the wights, and honestly, with those in my community that I feel are important to me.  I approach my community with love, because for all that I put in, I feel I get back more.

I approach my gods joyfully, reverently.  I trust them, am inspired by them, sometimes terrified by them, and the further and further I go in Heathenry, the less confident I will ever be able to develop a perfect understanding of them, but understand that in attempting it I am developing a much better understanding of myself, and my role in my family, my community and my world.

 

I may be faithless, by the understanding of those outside the community, and many inside it, but I take this as a good thing.  My gods have taught me to trust what I can see, can know, can test for myself.  My gods have taught me that I am the one making my choices in this life, and I had best be doing so for reasons I accept deeply enough to have no regrets.  I gave up my faith for knowledge, my fear for understanding, and reserve my guilt for my actual failings, not for the crime of being born.

I am a lot closer to death now than I am birth, so as I look at that final shore, I am more and more at peace with the understanding I have gained in this life, and find that should that shore be reached tomorrow or twenty years from now, it holds no fear, and at least a little wonder.

 

I thank the gods each day for the gifts they gave me, including the courage to rage at them when my losses are too great to bear, and laugh at them when the world is too ridiculous to accept.  I am a Heathen, and accept that getting it mostly right is about as much as we can expect, and I hope when they bury me that I can at least claim that much.  I expect that I will have provided much fodder for gods, men, and certainly women, to laugh at all through my life, and possibly long after.  At least I had the wisdom to laugh with them most of the time.

[1] Hávamál

146. Better no prayer | than too big an offering,
By thy getting measure thy gift;
Better is none | than too big a sacrifice,

 

http://www.sacred-texts.com/neu/poe/poe04.htm

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Aesir, Death, Heathen, Heathentry, Uncategorized

Heimþinguðr hanga (Visitor of the Hanged)

 

 

When you have lost everything, even your name, there is little point in going on.  I was not churlish enough to leave my body hanging where I would be found by those who would be hurt by it.  I brought my rope with me to the park.  There was an old maple tree in the park, the stairs down passed close enough he could tie off, and once I lept out, the fall would offer no chances to back out.  It would be done, and one thing at least would go right.

 

I had tied the knot myself, I had to break down and watch a YouTube video to figure out how.  I looked at the tree in the darkness, lit only by the light of the moon, and the pale light from the parking lot at the top of the stairs on the hill above.  The tree was a great dark brooding presence in the middle of the grove.  Squat ravens eyed me with scant interest as they tucked their heads into their feathers as the spring winds sought the warmth of the night black sea as they sighed off the slumbering white capped mountains.

 

“You a good dancer boy?”  the voice shocked me to my core.

Odin Face

A street person in battered old combats sat in the shadows at the base of the stairs and looked at me in curiosity, one cold blue eye and shining white teeth grinning back in the moonlight like deaths shadow.

 

“You tied that too tight, you are going to strangle slow.  I don’t mind.  I seen some dance and kick like they were dancing for their light-o-love, and if you a dancer boy, then have at her.  If you aren’t a dancer, you’re just going to look lame and pathetic.  Not that I care, but if you want to go out with a little style and can’t dance, you’d best let me fix that for you”

 

He chuckled, the old bastard was LAUGHING at me.

 

I won’t be mocked.  On top of everything taken from me, everything lost, I will not be mocked. I shook the rope in my fist and screamed at the old man.  “You have no idea what you are talking about, no bloody idea who you are talking to, and you have no idea how dangerous mocking me is today old man.  No bloody idea at all”

 

He threw back his head, and the wreckage of his face caught the light.  One side showed the ravages of gods only knows what.  He threw back his head and laughed in great hacking gasps that caused the ravens to echo his laughter until they sounded a corvid chorus of mockery.

 

He rose to his feet, and threw his hands wide, his eye blazing bright in the light, and a dangerous potency hung on his limbs like a banner flapping on a field of corpses.  His voice rasped with a dark contempt as he spun and gestured like an actor upon the stage, fingers taking in my figure where I stood above him in the light, weaving in word and gestures his webs about me.

 

“Who am I talking to?  I know your name-to-be boy.  I know them all.  Shall I name them?   Behold boy the names you will bear when the tree bears your burden.  Shit-breeks I name you, for full will be your trousers when you are found.  Late-hung I name you, for had you been hung while living, much delights maidens would have from you, but now you will be late-hung.  Two-cherry I name thee, for the raven’s will have twice the fruit of thee they would of me”  He pulled down the cheek below his intact eye to leer at me, and the ravens cackled in a way that made the vision of them plucking my eyes from my hanging corpse seem real enough my own gorge rose, and the urge to throw up caught me. I spilled my guts noisily as the old man laughed.

 

He took a pull from a bottle in his combat coat pocket, and extended it to me.

 

I swished the cheap rum around my mouth and swallowed its burning down to wash the bile from my mouth.  He extended a hank of some kind of jerky, fish I think, and I began to chew the leather hard meat to settle my stomach and banish the feeling of ravens plucking my eyes from my mind.
“Half a loaf and half filled cup, full friend found.  Tell you now boy, you throw up my booze, I am going to kick your ass before you hang yourself, on that I oath.”  He seemed unperturbed by my presence and purpose, even if crazy, he at least understood.

 

I whispered “Who are you?”  He slapped me on the back and grinned.  Taking a deep swig of the rum he ruffled my hair like I was a small boy.

“Last name I give you, they once gave me.  Farmr galga, burden of gallows.  You can call me Heimþinguðr hanga, visitor of the hanged.  My wife called me asshole, mostly because her friends called me often.”

 

I stared off into the darkness, seeing the choices that brought me here.  Pride brought me to the edge, anger wouldn’t let me turn, and the people that got hurt I couldn’t fix.  I let my anger fall away.  It hadn’t helped then, when I broke things, and it certainly couldn’t help me now they were past fixing.  “Listen old man, you don’t understand, this is about justice, if its about anything.”

Passing me the rum, he took the rope and began to work it.  I opened my mouth to object, but he drove four inches of a blade twice that length into the post with a casual flick, driving it deeper than I could manage with a sledgehammer.  I drank while he worked.  His fingers working with a speed and skill at odds with the bedraggled appearance of a broken old homeless veteran, hinting at whatever he had been, before.

 

“Nobody wants justice.  Wish justice upon your enemies, if you wish, but punishment is what you usually mean.  For yourself you can have all the punishment you want, but scant justice will it bring.  You broke trust, and you can’t splice that back like I do this rope.  You broke your name, and everything it once meant.  You hang yourself to end it shit-breeks that is all you will be.”  His voice held neither interest nor judgement, he could have been discussing the weather.  He continued in the same tones.

 

“Now I could hang you.  Hang you right.  Leave your fool ass here in the dark of the grove.   Leave you to storm winds lash, to moonlights eye, and cold rain’s scourge.  Leave you in the dark with naught but the Tree and the silence.  Sun won’t be up for another nine hours, if nothing eats you, and no one crazier than me happens by, maybe you might figure out who you are.  Hangi, hanged one who hung to learn, or Farmr galga, gallows bait who fed those fat lazy bastards. Don’t worry, the ravens will wait until morning to take your eyes, not much longer, they don’t trust the gulls to leave their food alone.”

 

The rum must have been hitting me pretty good.  It actually made a sort of sense, and I let the old crazy bastard bind me in the darkness to the tree.  I shivered in the cold, alone with my thoughts and the growing pain in my limbs.  At one point I began to be afraid, I saw the shadows of big dogs moving between the trees, and the ache of the cold in my muscles began to make me fear for my life.  I tried laughing then, half sobbing, as I realized the foolishness of being scared I might die on the tree I came to hang myself on.

 

Alone beneath the pitiless moon, cold rain scourging me, I had all the time in the world to look backwards at choices made, failures only now clear.  Misery sat easily on my straining shoulders, but the night is long, the darkness patient, and the tree pitiless.  I cannot stop my mind.  I turn things around and around, justice he mocked me with.  I see the futility of it.  Had I ended as he mocked, shit-breeks, hung and dead, no wrong I had wrought would be fixed, no balance could I make for those I had wronged.

 

The bark dug into me, the moon danced slowly above me, and the shivering of my muscles burned like fire, my joints aching like I hung not alone, but with all my deeds with me.  I struggled to take the weight off my joints.

 

My breath was hard, as my chest could scarce rise with my arms so bound, and my arms all but out of their sockets as I hung.  I felt a growl in my chest, and an answering growl in the darkness.  No, I had enough of hanging helpless, it solved nothing.

 

I straightened my legs and back, raising my head to face the deep dark, turning away from the distracting light to face the dark before me.  Taking the rope past where it bound my wrists, I took it in my hands and let my muscles take some of my weight.  Hard on my hands and wrists it was, my muscles screaming and shivering, but my breath came easier.  There was no hiding from it, no running from it, there was only facing it.  I had nothing but my own strength for as long as it lasted, and no hope of any real change, but so long as I could stand, I would stand. So long as I could strive, I would strive.
Looking into the darkness, I saw golden eyes staring back at me.  Dark forms moving in the darkness.  There were always monsters in the darkness, especially the darkness you feared to look at.  There was enough of that in the mirror every morning, but it was always hard to turn to the darkness and face it when the light of the moon offered gentler sights.

 

I snarled into the darkness.  Whatever was out there I would face.  Helpless and bound, I was yet a man I think, and would face what must be faced.

 

Justice is not about punishment alone.  Punishment fixes nothing.  You cannot unring a bell, unbreak a trust, or unscrew a life, but you can take ownership of the mistakes you made.  You can acknowledge the debt to those you failed and do your best to use every bit of strength you had in you to be there to aid those who struggled under the burdens I gave them.  The dead fix nothing, the living don’t have a great record either, but they don’t always fail unless they fail to try.

 

Dawn was a long way off, so was hope.  I had only the rope, the tree, and the darkness.  Sometime in the night I passed beyond my body, and into the tree, down into its roots, into the truths whispered not to the living.  The sky bled a dark purple, not light, but not blackness any longer when he came to me again.

 

Thrice he struck, once to the hangman’s knot that bound my neck above, then left and right to the ropes that crucified me to the great tree’s bark.  His great bony fist caught the hangman’s know below the turnings, and dragged me to the picnic table to lay me down to recover.  A tattered sleeping bag he wrapped me in.

 

Dawn rose, and I looked at the tree from which I had hanged, upon which I was to have hung myself.  Around its base were tracks of beast, greater than any dog.  No tracks from the old man could I see, only my own, and those of two great hounds.

 

I shivered in the dawns cold light, and the laughter of the ravens called my thoughts back.  Two great glossy beasts took wing, harsh cries giving mockery to the slow turnings of my bewildered mind.  I turned to face the dawn.  Life goes on, and there was much yet for me to do.

 

Turning my back to the tree, I turned my face square to the dawn.  Neither the light nor dark would I shy from, I had too much yet to do.  I came to the tree because my life had turned to shit.  The old man did not offer me sunshine and roses, but he bound me to the tree until I could see the choices as he did.  I could hang from the tree with shit in my breeks, or I could rise from the tree and stride forward towards my responsibilities, because I had shit to do.

 

One of them is worthy, even if sometimes both stink.

Ravens

 

Bynames of Odin

  • Hangi – “Hanged One”
  • Valdr galga – “Ruler of Gallows”
  • Farmr galga – “Gallows’ Burden”
  • Heimþinguðr hanga – “Visitor of the Hanged”

 

John T Mainer

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