Forgive me if upon the day I cannot raise the cry I cannot sing the shining praise Nor raise my banner high The mother of our land is weeping Heavy are her tears The dead are crying in their graves Hidden all these years
To all of us who marched away Made war under her name Her tears demand to know Who stood on guard For my first born When you stood on guard for me?
I love our nation best of all I am her proudest son Yet I hear her weeping for her first born Those we stole and threw away You cannot raise the banner high When it flies on unmarked graves Her tears will keep that banner furled Until we give justice to their name
Our nation is a promised land A land so strong and free Yet we built it on the broken bones Of little children we took away
Forgive me if I cannot sing The anthem on the day Not when so many bones are screaming In their unmarked graves
The day will come we raise the flag Salute again with pride But first we must bring justice For all the innocents who died
Our motherland weeps on the banner For her firstborn cast aside Until we make it right with them We have no right to pride
I will not be celebrating Canada Day this July 1st. I will be pouring out my offerings to the hundreds of Aboriginal Canadians ripped from their families, murdered, and thrown away in mass unmarked graves in a program that ran into the 1990’s, under the auspices of the Canadian government, the Catholic and Anglican Churches.
We made a successful attempt to kill an entire group of cultures, languages, and ways of life. We set out to destroy family structures, community structures, traditional beliefs, and we didn’t care how many Aboriginal children had to suffer or die as long as whatever remained was only capable of speaking English or French, only capable of praying to Jesus.
We didn’t care if they got sick, got beaten, got raped. We didn’t care if they simply got taken away and forgotten. The forgotten are being found as today’s technology is capable of finding the sins of the past we buried in unmarked mass graves that we like to pretend belong to Nazi Germany and Stalinist Russia. They are Canadian. We did this. We were doing this while most of us were alive, and the survivors of this are all around us, continuing to be treated far worse by our criminal justice system and social services.
We live in the richest society on earth, with a constitution and charter of rights and freedoms that calls upon us to fulfill the dream of a society in which all are treated equally and well, no matter their race, religion, gender, or orientation. Yet not everyone gets to be part of this dream, those who were here first, those who welcomed our ancestors to this land now have communities that are so poor and bereft of the services that all of us take for granted they look like they should be on some other continent, not a short drive down the highway. We have the harsh statistics that show being born Aboriginal is to never be treated fairly by our social safety net or criminal justice system. We have mass graves of a cultural genocide that was willing to accept actual genocide as the cost of wiping out Aboriginal culture.
I love my country, but I will not celebrate it until we have made this right. We made a promise with our constitution, with our Charter of Rights and Freedoms that whatever we may have been when we were founded, we came together to demand something better, something fair, just, and harmonious.
I won’t salute those colours again until I see us live up to that broken promise, until those mass graves have seen justice done, when the survivors who have had their culture, their family and community structure stolen away have received our aid in rebuilding.
When the motherland no longer weeps for her first born children lying forgotten in unmarked graves, I will salute the colours again. Until then, the flag hangs heavy with the tears of the motherland, and the dead lie awaiting justice in the cold earth that was the only homeland we left them.
I guess everyone has heard the song (My Mother Told Me) from the Vikings, but it got stuck in my head and I began to think about what my father actually told me (what my mother told me is neither printable nor useful).
My Father Told Me
My father told me One day I would die All that I had won Left upon the dirt
When the challenge sounds Be the one who stands Give your all to the battle Blood will wash you clean Time will make you whole It won’t make you forget
My father told me One day I would fail All that I had fought for Would look on me with shame
When work is still to do Be the one who stands Give your all to the doing No one has to cheer Love is paid with duty Rest is for the dead men
My father told me One day he would die All that he had won Would live on in me
When I see my children I see my father’s eyes Boldly striding forth Charging into the future No fear will hold them No fear will hold them
—The song got stuck in my head some time ago, and it is a good work song. Problem with good work songs with lyrics of meaning it you start working on the meaning in the part of your brain that is not busy working.
My father did teach me a lot about killing, but that was mostly about making sure I stayed alive to get to the important stuff he paid good coin to learn. The things he taught that mattered the most are these;
It costs you more to look in the mirror and wonder why you didn’t step up, than it costs to step up and get hurt, or even dead.
One day you will fail, when you can’t afford to. You will screw up the thing you would have given everything to protect. You STILL have work to do, if you aren’t dead, you don’t get to stop and feel sorry for yourself. Get back to work, and feel sorry for yourself while doing your duty.
No thing you earn, no title, no land you hold, no gold, no lover will matter after your last breath. What will is those you leave behind. What you give to them in time, in care, in protection, in power, in resources and in love are the only things death can’t take from you.
Remember that when you choose. You don’t get to fix it when they don’t need you anymore.
It is a ritual I have done a number of times, a source of aid I have turned to enough times that I had somehow managed to forget that “the ancestors” were people, and while as a collective entity possess wisdom beyond their living limits, our ability as a species to create truly new and epic problems is one of the reasons the gods themselves haven’t grown bored with us and found a new game.
I had a question. It’s a family thing and honestly none of anyone else’s business so I shan’t be sharing its particulars right now. What is important is that it was a bit of a sticky question, the sort of thing that I could honestly have used some direction on.
I turned to the ancestors for their wisdom, and I got it, but what I got was not what I had hoped for. What I got honestly caused me to burst out laughing from my sleep, then sink into a deep cold depression. A few cups of coffee later I had two things; a much better appreciation of the problem, and a new understanding of the ancestors.
I laid out my problem to my ancestors for their guidance. What I got was first a look at the problem, then a whole bunch of colouring in around the bits I either had glossed over for reasons of embarrassment, or had forgotten to include for reasons of incompetence. Then I got a view of a couple of real land mines along what I had thought were possible routes to solutions that first, I had no clue were there, and second, were way beyond my ability to keep from going off, or defend from the attendant damage.
Then I got a very clear message. “Well, shit.”
My ancestors truly did grace me with a far better understanding of the problem. It wasn’t as bad as I thought, it was actually worse, as I seemed to have managed to overlook a few things from either optimism, or fear of admitting I was this far into the land of no good options and striding forward.
Their response quite simply was shining the light of their collective knowledge and experience on my situation, allowing me not the glimpse of the bad things my little flashlight of insight picked up on its own, but the whole glorious field of FUBAR the full shining moon of ancestral wisdom revealed. The verdict? Well, shit.
Sometimes you don’t get a pat on the head. Sometimes you don’t get a magic “get out of mistake” free card. Sometimes you get your faint fear that you may well be a$$hole deep in alligators replaced with the clear and unequivocal wisdom of your sacred, and not so sacred ancestors; “you are actually balls deep in the Daintree river, and those are five meter salt water crocodiles. By the way, they seem really interested in you. I hope you are luckier than bright.” Good information, not so much with the helpful, but good to know.
They were people. They are part of a wonderful collective of our dead and thus with a store of knowledge and wisdom that makes some of their earthly decisions seem harder to explain, but they are pretty much made of the same stuff that we are. Human problems are not like godly problems; ours are way worse.
Seriously. We can screw up anything. Any parent of a bright child will understand that intelligence doesn’t prevent stupid decisions, it changes the pallet of bad decisions from one or two, to twenty or thirty choices so spectacularly bad that actual stupid people would not be able to think of them. Human problems are like the pain scale, we are continually redefining the ten, redefining the stupidest possible. We are the brave frontier of bad decisions, and our ancestors, while proud somehow we keep managing to breed before succumbing to them, may occasionally be as gobsmacked as we are by the particulars of the strange and utterly new trouble you have created.
Go you! Well done, the ancestors are indeed looking forward to seeing how this plays out.
This would be one of those times to offer to the gods. When your particular luck holder stops laughing, and offers some advice, take it. The laughter? Take that as praise. Our gods track record in stupid choices is something that both allows them to laugh with us, and keeps them from being smug enough to laugh at us.
We offer many things to the gods and ancestors, even unintentionally. If you reach out to your sacred ancestors for aid and get something as disturbing as “Well, shit.”, or “How in the nine worlds did you think that was going to work out?” do not despair. Try very hard not to repeat, but do not despair. They were not that much brighter when they were alive either.
Now back to my regularly scheduled FUBAR. My ancestors are interested to see how it plays out.
There comes a rider Eight legs bear him Like a coffin On shoulders born
One eye living One eye gaping Wide grin showing Poisoned gifts giving
Hel gates open For the Feeder of Ravens To him to gather Unquiet corpses
Bright gifts I bring you Stolen from the living Bright maiden’s yearnings Proud warrior’s dreaming
He casts before him Like nine rings falling A thousand fingers Corpse cold clawing
Torn and shattered The scraps uncounted Yet a taste is given A hope in Hel
Cold hearts aching Bare fangs flashing Torn throats shrieking Of its bitter taste
The pain awakens Duties long forsaken Oaths long shattered Unquiet lie
To the river of venom Where memories taken Where is forgotten The life long past
At its banks standing Now silent Draugr Clutched in their fingers Cold hope in hell
No fingers open No hand will cast it No thing more precious Than hope in Hel
Cold eyes weeping Cold hearts beating Cold memories stirring Of oaths long failed
When sounds the horn All Twilight ending What will it matter? This faded thing
Who failed while living Who in harm delighted Who now has fallen To hope in Hel?
—-One truth is given us, where there is life, there is hope. Who is not dead is not done, your chance to build your worth, or redress the harm you have done is not lost. Yet too the dead are bound to the living, and to life as well. If the living ride the iron road to Hel for the secrets only they know, what is it the living have that gives them power to change even the unquiet dead, if not hope?
I know my daughters are doing the decorating thing, and my wife is planning things, buying things, and balancing things between the various friends and daughters so that everyone is looked after. I am rather letting down the side this year because I don’t feel the Yule they do, I feel the old one.
I loved the traditions we built up in our own family around Yule. I love the exchange of gifts, brightening each others lives and showing how much we care for each other. That part is real, that part is magic. That part I am honestly not feeling.
I am looking at the list of people I lost so far, the list of people who are dancing right now on the edge, and know we stand in the dying time. I know this is the time to call upon him as Father Yule but the Lord of the Grave is awaiting me every time I stop working for a minute.
I look at this Yule and in the time of privation, my family is doing fine. I am half blind, my broken neck half healed, I can’t sleep, can’t rest, and you know what, its OK. I got used to it. I got back to work and am doing better this year during the pandemic than most. My wife caught Covid and recovered without any detectable permanent disability. Some reduced vital capacity in the lungs, but otherwise good. This is honestly so far in the shiny outcome category that I have to sit back and appreciate an old fashioned Yule.
I have given to people, I have given to organizations that support those who aren’t doing well. I haven’t asked for anything for myself not because I am selfless, honestly I am selfish but I just don’t give a flying fuck about anything beyond keeping my loved ones cared for, and keeping enough gas in the car, coffee in the man to keep working.
I look out at a city that has never been less decorated. The public stuff has been done, but it is all the more stark because the wonderfully creative private displays, even the decorated hammerhead cranes above the skyscrapers are absent. This is a survival Yule.
We wassail hard in the heart of the dark because the grave is a breath away, and too often that breath is a wet gurgle that ends in silence. We celebrate in quiet thoughtfulness not wild abandon because this year the idea we might not be able to gather together next year is a fear we must face.
The good old days were not good. My father and grandfather spoke of them. I lived most of my fifty years in vaccine protected socialized medicine and social safety net protected invincibility from the true horrors of our ancestor’s lives. This year that immunity was stripped away.
Friends die, friends who did everything right and worked hard their entire lives look to lose their houses, their healthcare and everything they build through no fault of their own. Accidents of birth, not just of class and ability, but of nationality create a stark divide between those left to face the falling spears of the Jottun named Covid-19, and who shelters behind mighty shields while the shafts slay those to left and right.
This year I worked the longest night of the year moving ton after ton of goods by hand and by machine. I feasted my coworker on our break with food my boss will pay me back for. It was a good celebration and served to move several tons of medical supplies for distribution to those who need it.
I see the Yule Father take to the sky, clad in the scarlet and white that generations of children have learned to summon for him. I see him ride something other than the wild hunt, with gifts of joy and comfort, not a never missing man killing spear in his fist. I give thanks for the Yuletide, I give thanks for those who are still alive to celebrate this Yule with me. I offer first and best to those who passed before the tide, and who will pass before Disirblot.
We stand in the heart of the dying time, a time of privation and loss. The gods call upon us to come together and brighten each other with gifts, to wassail hard in the heart of the dark, because right now the flame of life gutters alone in the despair of that privation and loss. It is for us to bind each other to this life that we can come out this Covid plague to a time we can meet without masks, clasp hands and embrace as friends without endangering anything but each others toes.
For now, keep your masks in public, keep your chill when you can’t do what you always do this year, and wash your damned hands.
If you happen to meet my god this Yule, greet him as Yule Father or Santa. The other faces he wears in the dark of the year you don’t want to meet.
I was standing in the bar minding my own business. That was easy, the bar was closed and I was doing inventory since we were going into lock down again due to Covid 19. I heard what I no shit describe as the thunder of hooves, and the creaking of the old wood floor of the pub. The pub was the first Bank of Montreal in the interior, back when this was a riverport and a happening town. Then came the railroad, and this became a town free of happenings, and the bank became a bar.
Hooves have never been a thing you want to hear in a bank, or a bar. Especially not a closed one, and at night at that. I turned around and saw. Now, for the record, at that point in the evening I had not yet been drinking. This established, I will tell you what I saw.
Krampus. Krampi? Is it a horde of Krampus, a herd of Krampus, or since we switched over from the Imperial system, is it now a metric fuckton of Krampus? I am not sure. Whether I had a horde or a herd, I definitely had a metric fuckton of Krampus in my pub.
They were crouching, mostly because the lazy ceiling fans argued bad if musical things would occur if the seven foot plus Krampus were to straighten, with their proud goat horns standing tall. Given a look at those horns and my ceiling fans, they were not sparing themselves, but being kind to the bar.
Cow bells hung from their necks, iron bands wrapped their wrists from which dragged chains with open collars dangling from them. Upon their backs were heavy packs, empty now, but stretched in such a way that implied they could be stuffed pretty full. Bundles of birch rods swung from one hand, until they piled them casually on tables as they past to pull up to the bar and the higher stools to rest their hooves in a musical chorus on the brass rail.
Faces that blended wolf and goat, with burning almost blazing eyes staring out at them smiled with weary ease. If you are curious, a horde, herd, or fuck ton of Krampus smiling at you is not going to put you at ease. I briefly considered peeing myself, but recalled that since I hadn’t bothered making myself coffee (and have to clean the urn again), and wasn’t yet drinking, I had nothing in me to pee. This question got me through a few rocky moments while the Krampus sorted themselves out at the bar.
“We’re closed, shut down due to Covid by orders of the chick in charge, or the Premier, or someone.” I offered, with what was perhaps not my most professional delivery.
The lead Krampus stroked his long goat like beard and nodded. It is something to see when a seven foot tall naked goat man nods is great horned head from six inches away.
“Mortal barkeep, we saw that. Had you been operating during this plague, we would have whipped you to within an inch of your life. Thus always to the wicked. Now that being said, you are closed to humans, we are not humans, and this is a bar. We are powerful thirsty. Powerful.”
The growl running down the bar argued that I had best agree. One of the other Krampi (okay, I have decided they are Krampi) added in a rumbling laugh.
“Don’t worry, I worked every plague since Loki got horse-clap, and never got so much as a flea!”
Having thus settled the question about whether masking and social distancing rules applied to mythological seasonal demons of punishment, I took my hand sanitizer and washed my hands. Put a fresh mask in place because damnit even serving delusions, I was going to be serving it right. Wiping my bar with a Lysol wipe, I laid coasters out before each of my customers and with the shrug that admitted therapy, alcoholism or brain bleach would be required afterwards, I got to work.
“What can I get you gentlefolk?” Having been thoroughly terrified by the entrance, I didn’t want to misgender anything that looked like it could dismember me and dated from a time period where casual dismemberment was an educational tool often employed by spiritual agents.
The lead Krampus slapped the bar so hard the calendar swayed and laughed like a braying goat.
“Gentlefolk! Gentlefolk? Oh little mortal, that is a goodly jape. We are thy most ungentle folk, but powerful thirsty ones.”
With a grin that reached my eyes, even though my face was masked, I offered again.
“What can I get my most ungentle guests, this fist night past Krampusnacht?”
The first offered “I will have a pint of Vodka, and a bottle of Sleiman’s Honey brown.”
The second asked for a bottle of Congac, something old enough to molest in public.
I thought briefly about raising the tiny point that we are not allowed to serve any drink with more than two shots of alcohol in it, when I noticed one of the Krampuses had taken up a fire poker from the stove and was bending it into a pretty flower using only its long clawed fingers, and decided that along with my disbelief, my adherence to some civil ordinances would be waived for the evening.
Pouring out enough pure alcohol to lay a rugby team low, or land an infantry platoon in extra duty for a month, I finally decided that I wasn’t going to get another chance to ask, and might not survive the night anyway, so what the hell.
“So,” I said as casually as anyone can in a bar filled with Norse Yule punishment demons. “How was Krampusnacht, a lot of kids to scare?”
The laugh around the room made me feel like a lone bunny tethered in a grass field of wolves. I revisited the peeing myself question, still lacked the ammunition to proceed.
The lead Krampus drained his pint of Vodka, gestured for a refill and sipped his Sleiman’s surprisingly delicately and answered.
“We punish the truly wicked, we visit upon them the torments of branch and brand, fang and hoof. We scare the piss out of the little buggers. Not all of them. Not the worst of them. Just the borderline.”
The laughter around the room shook the walls until dust settled from the rafters and the hanging martini glasses and racked steins began to sing and chime.
I tried wrapping my brain around that one, and failed.
“What do you mean, not the worst?” I said, unable to contain myself.
The third one down the bar reached over, terrifyingly long reach if you are curious, and rapped me solidly between where my horns would go, if I had any. As the gong like noise of my skull being tested like a melon reverberated through my head, and my neck tried to decide whether it would hold this impact against me later, the third Krampus down amplified the first one’s statement.
“Grab yourself a bottle, mortal barkeep, and have a pull. This will be hard to swallow without a little liquor to smooth its way down the fjord of denial to the harbour of wisdom”
That was too much poetry from a demon for me to take sober, so once again the laws and possibly my future employment were going out the window. I took down a bottle of mead. Tears of Skadi it was called. I grabbed my horn from below the bar and poured the whole thing in.
Reverently I raised the horn and said “Absent friends.” I poured a little into the spillway of the bar. With a roar, the Krampi raised their own glasses, steins and bottles, then splashed a generous amount on the floor, shouting “Absent friends”. Ah well, I was going to have to mop to get rid of the crap their split hooves was leaving on the floor anyways.
I took a long drink of the mead, and let my breath go. For the moment, the fear slipped away, and the magic of it filled me. That one toast called my dead to me. Friends, lovers, comrades at arms, family. They came and joined us in the feast, joined us for the telling of tales and sharing of jests. Ancient Norse demon or middle aged barman, we all had our fallen comrades, our dead, and we all raised a glass to their name, to keep their memory ever bright. Screw the little details about species and absolute impossibility of existence, we were comrades tonight. It was enough.
The Krampus waited as I refilled a second pint of vodka, another of Whiskey, two bottles of Congac and one curl horned Krampus was on his second bottle of Everclear. Not going to ask for his keys. Not really betting they drove in the first place.
Sipping on his second vodka pint, the lead Krampus stroked his beard and explained their ways.
“We don’t come to the good kids, they are scared enough and scarred enough by the bullshit you humans do to each other. We don’t’ come to the normal kids, ones like you that can be right bastards at times, but stop short of choosing to be monsters. Honestly we don’t have time enough for all the little turds like you used to be. You either smarten up or someone sticks a knife in you. Not our problem.”
So far I scanned it okay, but my question remained.
“Why not the all bad ones?”
The Krampus turned to me, and his eyes burned. So clear. I took a convulsive swallow of my mead and tried to stir my courage enough to hold his gaze as he replied very softly.
“Lad, you are asking the wrong question. The question you ought to ask is why we come for the borderline ones. Why do we beat them, why do we scourge and flay them, why to be teach them fear and send them home again?”
There was a hunger, a feral need, a howling blood red urge for violence that beat the air like a chopper’s rotor. I felt fear wash over me, but my own courage was perhaps less the answer than my curiosity. A man has to die of something, better to be audacity that ignorance.
“Why then. Why beat the borderline ones and not the truly evil?” I challenged.
Long clawed hand flashed across the bar and dragged me close. The hot breath of Krampus and his spittle spattered my shirt as his eyes and voice both cut through me. The claws on the ends of those fingers that wrapped my neck were pressing above my carotid and jugular, the promise that a mistake here would be my last.
“We take the borderline and we whip them, terrorize them, scourge and flay them. We beat them with our birches and we visit upon them with every lash the memory of every wrong they have ever done. We feed them the terror they have given others, the pain they laughed to inflict. We let them feel and taste what they have done to others. We visit upon them in one night what they have given to others. We let them understand what they have been. We show them the face they offer their victims.”
I looked into his eyes and saw it. Saw in his eyes the look of fear, the flinching, the pain and humiliation as the shadow of hands rising and falling crossed the face of fear. My hands. Their fear. I felt the shame rise in me.
Who was the demon here? They visited their punishment upon those who stood poised to choose to become monsters. We visited our punishment on those who could not defend themselves. Those in our power.
I let my eyes fall. I understood.
My voice was husky, rasping, and the gall in my mouth called for a long pull of the horn to taste clean again, but I had words to spit out first.
“That is why you don’t come for the truly wicked. They would not care. It would not bother them to see the harm and taste the fear they themselves inflicted.”
I felt the hand release my throat, and looking me in the eyes, a grin twisted his strange goat face, and he lifted his glass to me.
“Now you know little mortal barman. There are indeed demons and monsters abroad on Krampusnacht. Only some of them are Krampus.”
Sing sweet Idunn Sing through the sobs Sweetly she stretched in sunlight Joyous dance in the breeze Beneath her branches Gathered the lost to her shelter
Come the storm and shattering Broken and bereft Yet green grew at the breaking Sun loving she sought Rise again rise again loving Sweetly to the sunlight Her blossoms brightly blooming
Through struggle and storm risen Strong and supple Bright limbed and heavy blossom Deep rooted and loving Dreaming of the fruit She will bring forth
Sing sweet Idunn Sing through the sobs For the blight has touched the blossom Fought so long to reach The full sun of summer Now ash sears and blights Where blossom hung in promise
Bitter dew is gathered Tears stain the swaying leaf Petals fall in silence Bright dreams litter the floor Bare branch shall never hold Rich fruit in loving boughs
Sing sweet Idunn For her shall never know your richness Grown strong in the broken places Danced joyous in each post storm dawn To be blighted in her full blossom All her victories naught but jest Blossoms and dreams By blight made foul and rot
—–Some news just hurts. There is no wisdom that grants it perspective, for each new layer of knowledge deepens your awareness of the wound suffered, and your helplessness to do anything but witness the blood fall.
I will take all your strength The skill from your hands The lore from your mind The fire from your blood I will leave you nothing I am the ruin of all you have become I will unmake you Before the end
Thus spake the abyss Ever hating Ever hungry Ever closer
Once I was invincible Or perhaps I was a fool Skills and arts were mine Mastery was earned and proven Before the first shattering Or was it the second?
Thus met the abyss Ever hating Ever hungry Ever closer
At first I rose defiant Carved power from my blood Wrote saga’s in my pain Took up those arts I mastered Took up the battle unflinching Less in power Less in skill Haunted by what I was
Then whispered the abyss Ever hating Ever hungry Ever closer
Every dawn my fangs taste you Every dusk a step closer The strength of your limbs bleeds away Your skills fade and falter Half the man of yesterday Twice what tomorrow will leave
Then laughed the abyss Ever hating Ever hungry Ever closer
Yet in the cold light of dawn I nodded Naught but tatters for banners Naught but ashes for dreams Yet the wreckage of me remains And from that wreckage A truth
The strength I had is fading The skill I won goes with it Yet on the day of my ending Cold the dawn Bloody the dusk You will find me striding forward Catch me only dying And kiss My cold dead ass
–For it is given to Heathens to know that they will die. We do not seek death, nor do we bestir ourselves much to avoid it should it rise in our path. Our gods call upon us to live fully, to live truly, and to make of our lives such a thing that that which age, infirmity, and death can claim is so small compared to the life that we have wrought we will not even notice its loss.
I am not what I was, and the abyss draws closer with every breath. Yet I have those I love, and duty yet to do. If the abyss wants me, it can kiss my hairy heathen ass; I have much yet to do.