Aesir, Heathen, Heathentry, Uncategorized

Measure of a woman

How do you measure the worth of a woman?

Shall I sing of past deeds?  I could sing many a chorus of those, for she has been a woman of such strength of character I hold her up as example and person to turn to for my own daughters.  I count her as my sister in law, both as she is wife to a man close to me as my own brother, and because she stands as close under the protection of my arm as my own wife or sister would.

As an artist she is the creator of our banner, the Freyr’s Yule-Father garb, the illustrator of our Kindertales I and II, to be followed after her recovery with Kindertales III.  She is an author, was my first editor for my own “They Walk With Us” collection, and was our editor and publisher for the Kindertales project.

She is a modern shield maiden, having joined with her husband when I enticed them into the Canadian Armed Forces, not only doing the job in truth, but taking to the field in sport to play on the acres of their land in 100 mile with an airsoft AK in hand to make sport-slaughter among the trees, rocks and bunkers.

As a Heathen, she is an exemplar of wisdom and scholarship, of frith as an active force for community building.  Serving as Ombudsman for many years, she was the one most skilled and dedicated to making peace between others, frequently at some cost to herself.

As a mother to her son and daughter, she shines as bright as any I have seen. I had no worries whatsoever entrusting my own children to her care when military duties took myself and her husband away, and I must leave my own children in her care.  In time, she returned that trust by joining us in service and leaving my elder children to care for our combined families.

Now she stands into a different battle.  Cancer has struck deep within her.  Indeed, she laughs now with the gallows-humour Odin himself will roar to hear, as she boasts of her radioactive breasts.  Injected with radioactive dye today, she goes under the knife tomorrow to go, as she boasts from F cup to no f’ing cup.

Wyrd has chosen to mark her with the ravages of disease, but not choosing to accept such as a victim, she chose instead to put Mjolnir’s mark on her shield arm, to chose to mark her flesh with pride, rather than let fate reshape it at its own weaving and will.

How will we see her womanly form, now that the rich curves of her breasts fall to the knife of the surgeon, and her body braces from steel to face radiation and chemo in turn?

We will see it as we see the sword-arm of Tyr, the empty eye of Odin; the proud scars of victory, the silent banners of struggle, the glory marks of survival.  F cup, or no F’ing cup, she is the measure of a Heathen woman, who laughs in the face of a death she will defeat, and scars she will bear with pride as victory tokens.

The measure of a woman is how she faces her wyrd, how she faces the fires and hammer of this life, to be forged or broken as good steel or dross.  Freydis is good steel.  To send her into this battle, I sing one song learned from One Eye upon the tree.  I sing it for her this night.

157. An eleventh I know, | if needs I must lead
To the fight my long-loved friends;
I sing in the shields, | and in strength they go
Whole to the field of fight,
Whole from the field of fight,
And whole they come thence home.

Whole to the field of fight you go Freydis, whole come thence home.  Leave only that which has turned against you, bring home all flesh that yet answers your will and weal.

Freydis

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Aesir, Asatru, Heathen, Heathentry, Uncategorized

Godsfolk: Chain of Command

This post will touch upon magical things, darker aspects of the god Odin, and the ways he uses us, (or we him?) to deal with wounds beyond the power of others to deal.  If you are disturbed by magic, have triggers related to trauma or sex, then this is as far as you should go.  The waters beyond are deep, murky, and navigated more by faith than reason.  Sanity must be understood to be the end state goal, not in any way a waypoint or guide upon the path to that state.

 

Odin found me in basic training in the army, and on some level, I have always reacted to him inside that paradigm; he was our commanding officer, that distant god-like being whose inscrutable purposes we served, whose strategy we trusted to win the goals we had all sworn ourselves to, but who was ruthless enough to expend our individual asses without a seconds thought or backwards glance, should that advance to goals to which we had sworn ourselves, or served the community we had pledged ourselves to protect.

Two important things about the chain of command, it defines your responsibilities to those underneath you, and places you under the guidance of those who may best direct your efforts and development.  Your ultimate CO remains a distant figure whose approval and guidance is usually safely filtered through channels, and whose direct presence and orders are both rare and somewhat terrifying.

 

You learn a lot about others in your broader community, serving the same gods, but not in your direct chain of command.  Many of them you come to know and respect deeply, gaining the sense of how much they give to those under them, and how hard they work for the collective community, helping the broader vision of their seniors be brought to practical life.  It is one of these that this concerns.

 

Seiðkona are the seeresses of the community, a task whose risks if you understood would make you seriously wonder why any would take it up for knowledge bought so dearly to give to another, but that is the place, and indeed the calling of seiðkona.  I have the honour to call this particular seiðkona a friend, but as what this deals with is rather more intimate than any mere physical nudity, I will not be using any names, for I will not allow what she risked in her courage to be turned by the unworthy into weapons against her or any other.

 

 

The seiðkona had come to the community in search of a place in which she could grow and feel welcome.  As the worthy do, she sought to pay back with service the community that had given her a place that allowed her to grow both as a heathen and as a person, and this brought her to the tutelage of an elder practitioner of seidr as student.  I remember seeing the first time our seiðkona sitting in the high seat, and answering questions for the folk, journeying for those who had the need but not the skill, to gain for them that which was needful.  She was impressive, and rather unusual.  She had a hard rooted pragmatism and solid grounding at odds with the usual otherworldly (and some might criticize lightly-flaky) personality of one who spends so much time between worlds they seem to be slightly loose in this one at the best of times.

 

She had gone far, grown much, and was coming apart at the seems.  Her own power was threatening her health, her professional success was bringing the cost of destruction of her personal life.  The gap between the masks we wear to play each of our roles in society, and the truth of who we are, is where the stress of your life arises.  The amount of energy you spend on carrying this stress acts like the debt load on your income; the more you spend servicing the debt, the less you have to spend on accomplishing things.  When servicing that debt consumes the bulk of your resources, you become almost helpless to act, even when on paper you should have vast resources.

Seidrwoman

Odin’s service is brutal in a lot of ways, the costs of it can be harrowing, but the rewards are worth it.  As the community grows, and the number of those available to serve grows, the costs to those who serve the community will drop, but even as we can be thankful we pay less than the founders did, those who follow after have no idea how much better off they will be when there are finally enough hands for the work. One of Odin’s greatest gifts is wode, the transformative ecstasy, the madness that tears away all of our masks and lets us embrace our primal core, to fill with the pure energy of his madness and burn clean all the dross of our stresses, fears, depression, and pain.  She had progressed far enough to open many far and fell gates, but this one that would serve her, heal her, and restore the strength she was spending on others was closed against her.

 

She had been wounded in the past by others in crippling ways that she had spent much of her own strength to work around, but at this point the cost of her coping mechanisms was locking away the tool given for healing.  She could not open it.

 

She opened to me and shared much, and what I have been given by the Gallows Burden  is the ability to see wounds.  In my work with those with PTSD, I have been many times given the sight to see upon what parts of a persons core the wounds have written themselves, for there is no one place that damage falls, nor one way the survivors will work around the damage to win back function.  The Feeder of Ravens shows me the cost that others have paid, but leaves to me to work out or not how to aid them; there is no thing free in his service.

 

This was different, I was given the powerful sense that this was mine to fix, that the Gordion knot that had been tied in this seiðkona’s mind would fall to his spear, in my hands.

Freyr's Spear

Chain of command; we may be more comfortable with limited tasking from our existing chain, but we can be detached “upon the needs of service” for special taskings, and that is exactly what was being done.  She was His, as I was His, and if she was nearly broken, he wanted her fixed; now.

 

From the gods to the earth to us, from us to the earth to the gods

 

This is how we frame our offerings to the gods in the gifting cycle, we are completing the circle by paying back the gods for the bounty of their gifts by offering back to the earth from whom the bounty was derived.  A corollary of this is from the gods to the community to us, from us to the community to the gods.  We have each of us been healed, strengthened and supported by our community in times of need, we turn to the gods for help when our own strength fails, and it is through the many hands of the community that the gods work their will to preserve us.  Now it is time to be those hands, to give that aid, and reward one who has served the community so well by doing the gods work to make right what had been done to her over so long by others.

 

Slight problem; Odin showed me what needed to be done.  The Fetter Loosener and Father of All Magical Songs showed me what was required, and it was a fair spear cast beyond my skillset, beyond any work I had ever done.  Mine to do, not in my power to do.

 

Ah, Chain of Command is a glorious thing, is it not?  I am tasked by the High One to do a thing beyond me, but are there not others beyond me?  Funny thing about chains, is they run in both directions equally binding, and up that chain I scampered like Ratatoskr up the world tree to the greatest living seiðkona, who for reasons that no doubt made sense to her had undertaken my instruction in arts more delicate than fit well in my hands.

 

I called upon her, and her own former apprentice, now risen into a mastery I don’t claim, and probably won’t to help me fulfill the oath I had been called by the Victory Father to give to our wounded seiðkona; that I would see her sent forth beyond the worlds to the place she might find her healing, that I would keep her safe from all that dwell beyond, and I would bring her back hale and, at last, whole.

 

Only one of those was in my skill set.  I could ward her from all harm, that was given me, but sending her forth when her own, superior skills in this matter, could not, was beyond me.  They were not beyond my teacher, as simple for her as for any craft master, it seemed almost without effort, even as for the rest of us it would have been equally beyond possible.

 

Our wounded seiðkona had done her own work well, the map of her needs, the shape of every foe we need to overcome upon the way had been mapped for us; if she could not accomplish the work herself, every single bit of it that could be done by her strength alone would be complete before we turned our own hands to it, that our blows fall full and unfettered only upon that her own strength could not touch.  Nothing is free in the Father of Victory’s service, and she was not shirking her costs.

 

I cast the wards, but not simply upon our working space, but followed down where they journeyed, that my spear be over her in protection, as our other siedwoman saw for her when her own sight failed, kept open the path where she was driven to stray from its safety.

 

The wins of her long service were waiting for her upon the ways.  The blood she had bled from the wounds she could not touch was fallen upon the snows, and in her anger that even this had been stolen from her, she cast off humanity’s cloak and as a wolf fell upon her blood and bolted it down snarling; taking back what was stolen.

 

The tears that had not been shed, the tears never permitted to be shed, the range of pain, sorrow and joy that died aborning lay in scattered piles of dark and bright salts, like gems scattered about a mad dwarf’s cave.  Throwing off the wolf skin of her anger she pulled on a tattered humanity and took into her hands the salt of all the unshed tears.  She could not yet shed them, but these too were hers, and she chose to take them up, for they were purchased at the cost of her own pain, and were not for another to spend.

 

Her guides had told her she required Muspel’s own fire, but she knew not what for. The road to Muspelheim was not easy, but Loki had been called, as had been suggested, that he who was welcome at even the most fell hall should win her entrance, and it pleased him to do so.  As she gained it, I felt a rising within me.  I feared I knew what it was for, a gift that for most is not a gift, but one I had from His hands and one that was mine to share.  To the fire she offered the salts of her unshed tears, joy, pain, loss, sorrow, and laughter all she fed to the fire, and it danced as it consumed them; bright colours burned where the smith’s glow alone had burned.

 

To Hvergelmir our seiðkona came, yet the Mother of Waters would not wash her clean, for the filth inside her, the corruption and suppuration from the wounds long locked away would not wash clean; her own last and desperate strength yet bound those wounds closed.  I felt the spear grow light in my hand, and felt me steps draw near.

 

Skollvaldr I name him, father of treachery, Geirvaldr, spear god, and Sviðurr also, the burner.  She stood before the wall she built against her self, each brick half a wound from another’s hand, half a scar built to ward what remained.  She stood before the wall she could not overthrow and I struck.

 

Was it his insight that in truth would allow this fell blow to bring healing?  Is the the blade that cuts the Gordion knot that binds her, or is it my foolishness not his wisdom that guides a spear I can drive home but not remove?

 

I drive the fire she has paid so dear for deep into the corruption of her wound and I call. Sviðurr, the burner and Gapþrosnir, the one in gaping frenzy; I called two dark faces of Odin that I might teach her the last and worst of all.  I whispered fell as Loki to teach her to feed the filth of her corrupted wounds to Muspell’s flame, and burned she did like spear thrust Gullveig. Screamed she did as she burned, and was born in her Ygg, the destroyer.

gullveig_of_the_burning_heart_by_marisvision-d4srwr6

All the rage of wounds denied and unborn as the tears she was never permitted were un-shed met the corruption of the malice of those that wounded her, and she burned.  My spear though her, she screamed one, twice, and thrice, thrashing as in frenzy as she rose ever burning and struck.

 

 

 

The face of Ygg the destroyer gave way to Wode the terrible and transcendent frenzy as the wall that blocked her wounds from every healing, and walled away and tainted every passion with fear and shame fell to storm and fire, to the brutal hammer blows of her will, and the purifying flame of her rage.

 

She burned bright, she burned clean, and raged far and deep into those parts of her that she had never been permitted.  She was not however alone, and whispers of her seid sisters stilled her rage and called for her Óski, the god of wishes and Sanngetall the truth finder, for what lay behind the wall was hers; the truth of who she was, what she desired, what she may yet become.  Stolen from her by ancient wrong, won from the might and pain of her own struggle, now hers to take back, hers to own, and hers to at last become.

 

Back I had vowed to bring her, hale and whole, but to be whole and hale meant not only to bring back those parts of her that had been long stolen, but to set aside those parts of her that were no longer needed.

 

The seiðkona left at the well those fetters that had bound her, the bandages tied in weakness that turned into fetters binding her from taking her strength, as she left her hatred.  Burning as Gullveig burned, all the corruption of others malice clawing its way in agony from her burning pores she was given the choice to give those who harmed her to Odin’s rage, or Tyr’s justice.  Ygg she had embraced, but Bolverk she denied; she would be destroyer, but not evil worker.  While the power and choice were hers, she gave them up to Tyr, the most holy, and offered to his justice those who had done her wrong, giving up her vengeance as he gave up his sword arm, for as Tyr taught, honour is worth more to us than power.

 

Hale and whole I swore, and hale and whole she stood.  Her face shone as I had never seen it, womanish curves where hard planes of man-like mask had hung, a power that she wore like a cloak, not a mask.  Storms raged in her eyes, but in the center of which stood a peace that would be hers when the storm winds stilled, a peace I do not think I had ever seen in her before.

 

I knew her, and yet she who stood before me I did not, yet know.  This was a woman who contained she whom I knew, but extended deeper, and broader, and whose nature was only now beginning to unfold.  I do not know her yet, but I think I may call myself lucky enough to be a part of her life going forward to come to know her as she will soon be.

 

The next night we came together as a community, and called the many named one to us, for Odin wears so many masks and names, it takes a community to contain him when it pleases him to walk among us.

 

Odin filled her as ever-flowing mead does a horn, full and overflowing, and as she grew god drunk on him, I saw her look and love, look and lust, laugh long and loud without reservation, saw her eyes flash in bright hot anger, burn with the dread knowledge of the wise, and the soft gentle love of a healer and knew he was teaching her the parts of herself long bound and tainted were hers now, clean and whole and loved by him.

 

He filled all who had served him in this, his greatest priestess, her seid sister, and the now healed seiðkona as he filled me.  I had to pay my price that night as well, for as I had asked for a healing beyond my skills so I was asked to see for others that night, to stand as seer, for this I had not done, this task I had never undertaken in his name, for I had always let that burden fall upon the seiðkona among us.  Nothing is free in his service, but nothing in his service is without reward.  A gift for a gift is his way.

 

We call upon the gods for help for ourselves and for each other.  The gods in turn give us to each other, to build a community in which we may come together and celebrate, to join our strength together that our joined might be equal to any task set before us.  When our own strength is not enough, we call upon our holy gods to aid us, and even here, they let us be their hands, that as they use us to do what is needful, they leave behind their teaching that each generation can do more for each other, and turn to the holy tribe for only that which still lay beyond us.

 

I do not have faith in my gods existence, I have knowledge which precludes faith.  I have faith rather when the gods ask us to step beyond what we can do in service of those of our folk who have needs.  Chain of command; I don’t have to understand the orders I am given, I have trust in the one who gives the orders, that he asks what is needful, and those who have received so much from the community accept the cost of doing such work, even in the sure and certain knowledge that the price of it may sometimes be beyond what we can survive.  We who have been his hands know he will not relent or shirk from protecting those we would give our all to protect, so we will take on faith (not happily, for we are not fools) that should we fall in the doing, he will see ours protected better by those hands that survive.

 

That is why we do the work.

 

That, and the feasting. Even should Ragnarok come, the day of battle will see a pot luck with tables groaning with the weight of fine meat and drink, goodly food of all kinds, the sounds of song, flirtation,  and laughter sounding loud as the tramp of feet and rattling of war gear, as his service is not one taken up in anything but joyful celebration, even at the end.  Sure, he may be the end of us, but you will never say the ride was anything less than worth it.

Odin Picture

 

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Aesir, Asatru, Current events, Faith, Heathen, Uncategorized

Courage and the draft

Invictus

The world came to Toronto in 2017 to see the Invictus Games.  This is the single most Heathen sporting event in existence, and one of the most important to me.  The Invictus Games celebrate the athleticism, drive, and determination of our wounded warriors, our soldiers who marched away to war in our service and came back less than whole.

More than the Olympics, the Invictus Games celebrates those who have had the courage to overcome, who have dared to meet the harshest blows of this world and to rise again, unconquered, and claim their greatness.

70. It is better to live | than to lie a corpse,
The live man catches the cow;
I saw flames rise | for the rich man’s pyre,
And before his door he lay dead.

71. 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.

Our gods teach us that wyrd weaves as it will, there is no judgement in it.  Wounds do not steal your worth, nor do they steal from you the chance to continue to build it.  Wounds are not shameful, but rather the markers of the challenges you have faced in your life.  If you faced your challenge well, then the scars are marks of hard won pride, not shame.

The Celt believed only the whole and perfect man could be King, that somehow a scarred King would wound the land.  The Norse believed almost the opposite; for the accepting of the cost of your service marked you as a man or woman who was worthy of the power in their care.  Odin gave his eye for wisdom, Tyr his hand to show the worth of his word was more than his sword arm, and Thor bears still the millstone in his skull that battle chanced to put there.  There is no shame in bearing wounds, or loss; our highest gods bear their scars and wounds openly, and dare us to do the same.

This is the reality of the warrior culture so many Brosatru miss while swilling cheap beer and boasting of their guaranteed place in Valhalla, based on little more than mead hall boasts and heavy metal lyrics, rather than any deeds of service to the folk.  The reality of a “warrior culture” is the acceptance of loss as a cost of life.

Our whole people lived with this.  Women bore their children in the sure and certain knowledge that many of them would die, and that each birth, they too might die.  Farmers, fishermen, and craftspeople understood that when they took up their tools, a single mistake or mischance could cost them limb or life as surely as any warrior of the line of battle.

We lost that.  Our medicine has been a boon to us, for which I thank the gods and ancestors every day, but it came with a lie.  The lie that we are immortal, that death and injury are banished, and if they should confront us in our lives with their presence, then we have been betrayed!

We have been betrayed only in the teaching of that lie, and this treason we commit to each generation, making them less able to cope with the hard things wyrd weaves for all of us in our turn.  Loss of a loved one, loss of health to chronic illness, loss of limb or ability to serious injury; some or all of these our children will face, prepared or not.  Our only choice is that last one; do we prepare them, or not?

My middle daughter was the one who was most likely to follow me into the service, as she inherited the temperament I had from my father, and he from his.  This will not be anymore as she suffered a permanently disabling spinal injury when rear ended by a truck.  Just eighteen, and permanently disabled; to what extent, we will not know for a while.

Back Pain

I first encountered life changing injury during my time in the Armed Forces.  I volunteered to make of my body an offering to the folk, hoping to offer only my time, dedication and skills, but aware that I could also be offering my health, or even my life.  We don’t really think or talk to much about the various ugly places between hale and whole, and valiant dead, as the middle ground is far scarier than either of the extremes.

You don’t think so?  Well, perhaps when you have seen enough death, and enough crippling injury, you will realize that the dead do not have anything to fear, but the living often do.

The athletes of the Invictus Games are important to us because they bring back pride, power, and most of all, VICTORY to those whom wyrd has woven permanent loss of limb or ability due to injury.

Most important of all Odin’s bynames is Sigfather; Victory-father.  It is not death we fear, for death waits for us all, and can no more be run from than can the coming night.  It is defeat, loss, and the humiliation that attends each that we fear, it is powerlessness, despair, and the shame attendant on weakness.

We are our deeds.  These words ring through modern Heathen practice as the root, the central tenant we all share.  Some understand the whole culture of building worth, and have the full lexicon of terms by which we know how what we do shapes how both we think of ourselves, and how our community thinks of us.  Judgement is a truth we accept;  like gravity, denying it does not make it go away, or make for wise decisions through pretending its not there.

The disabled are left with the corollary of this.  We who have always measured ourselves and found ourselves worthy based on the number and power of our deeds must find ourselves worthless in our own eyes when the chance to do those deeds is stripped from us by fate.

Suicide rates do not come from no where, they come from a despair that looks upon a life and sees no worth in it, nor potential for worth in it.  This is where the disabled are most vulnerable, in the sense of worth that should be the greatest source of their strength.

Our ancestors understood this.  They did not expect the wounded to battle for the same things, or the same standards as the whole.  They expected them to contribute, to give their all and to build worth in the doing; they literally could not understand the mindset that rejected the reality of a lost limb and judged the wounded person by the standards they met when fully able and whole of body.

The lame rides a horse, hand-less is herdsman.  You cannot build your worth through the deeds of before, but there are other deeds you are well suited to meet, other needs of the folk that you can meet.  No one accounts Tyr or Odin as less worthy due to their loss, rather they look upon their deeds in spite of that as inspiration to drive them to find their own greatness with the body and ability they have now.

The soldiers of the Invictus games were volunteers to the field of battle, but they were drafted, as it were, into the ranks of the disabled.  Those of our children, siblings, spouses and friends who find themselves struck down by disease or accident are likewise drafted into this challenge.

The soldiers of the Invictus Games are assumed to be courageous, as they volunteered to risk their lives and health in the nations service.  The truth is, they are among the most vulnerable.  No one who has not served can know how much it shapes you, how the awareness of giving one hundred percent of your ability and strength, to achieve a mission at all costs, and know that you are operating at a level most will never achieve even fleetingly, changes you forever.  Once that is stripped from you, you are not returned to the civilian you were, you are simply a soldier who can no longer live up to the image of ability that had become the pillar of your self identity.

We lose a lot of wounded warriors, which is why the Invictus Games came to be.  The Sig-Father, our father Odin, is not just the Battle Glad, he does not simply love us for the clash of arms, and the feast for his ravens that are the fallen.  Odin is the Victory Bringer, the Wise Counselor, the bringer of inspiration, poetry, and the wisdom of coping in all its wondrous, and wondrously flawed forms.

It is time to heed his counsel, to bring back Victory for our wounded, for our disabled.  Time for them to not hide their scars, empty sleeves, or wheel chairs, but to wear them as proudly as any medal, for they are the spoils of the victor, the survivor, of the strong.

Wyrd weaves as it will, there is no judgement in it.  One of my favourite words when it comes to living with the bad things that happen in life is FISH.  Short for “Fuck It, Shit Happens”.  The gods have never judged us by our success or failure, they have judged us by how we face our challenges, and how we meet our responsibilities.  Victory in the battle is Odin’s to give, but victory in your challenge is YOURS to take.  Who wins or loses may be beyond your strength to decide, but how you meet that challenge is beyond the power of any god, Queen or President, beyond any Parliament or law, it is literally only your own decision that will or can determine how you meet that challenge every single day.

Stop letting the memory of what you were steal from you the chance to find out what you can be today.  Stop mistaking the wound that wyrd wove into your life as being the results of your battle; it is not your loss, but it has changed the nature of the victory that is yours to win today.  Heed the Victory Father, if you are still breathing, you have not lost.  Find your victory conditions, and fight for them as hard as you did when full strength and speed were yours, and you will build your worth not only to yourself, but to the world.

My daughter will never be as she was before the accident.  She is not now weak, nor should you pity her.  She has much less strength and flexibility than before, and will pay a price for each breath and each step that would make a strong man tremble, but she will pay it, because she is not done yet.  She is not beaten, has not accepted defeat as written in her wounds.  I hope I can help her find the ways to define her victory conditions so the will and drive that made her so strong and capable again become a positive, rather than a weapon to use to hurt herself.  The strongest and most able among us are the harshest in punishing themselves when wyrd takes from them the ability to meet their own standards.  My daughter is strong and proud as ever I was, and I hope less foolish.

Odin, Victory Father, I ask your blessing that you teach our wounded ones how to define and fight for their victories every day of their lives, that when they chance to fall, their lives will shine with worth, and their deeds will be many days in the telling.  Tyr the most holy, as you understood the choice between your honour and your power could have only one answer, help those who have had much of their power stripped from them to understand that honour is still theirs to win.  Thor, defender of mankind; laughing god of the common man and woman, please teach those who have been laid low by fate to rise again, to laugh again, and to strive again.

No one volunteered to be wounded, to be broken.  Those who are disabled to a man were drafted into this state, and yet this does not mean that they do not possess courage!  Those who rise each day to a struggle greater than the whole may know, and frequently for stakes far less rich than the whole compete for, require more courage and more strength to rise each day and do battle.  To those who rise to this every day, may the Victory Father be with you always.

Heed the lesson of the Invictus Games,

Invictus Motto

 

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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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